Saturday, July 19, 2014

Pea & Bacon Soup (with bacon bits and garlic croutons)

We are beset by rains once again.  It's typhoon season and another big one has just hit us.  Actually, more than big, she was strong...and ravenous.  She flew in Wednesday morning and left havoc and debris in her insolent wake.  I feel lucky that we have a roof over our heads, a safe place to hunker down during these times.  We watched the wind whip the trees and the rain come down in slanted sheets while we were in our pajamas, dry behind our windows.  Little C’s eyes were round saucers as typhoons are very much new to her 4-year-old consciousness. 

It wasn't just the trees that bore the brunt though.  The storm brought our electricity down as well.  Some of my friends have yet to get their power back.  Some even lost water.  And those of us whose lights are back still experience scheduled rotational power outages.  This is not even to mention those that have had homes and property damaged.  Once again we find ourselves with the task of rebuilding, picking up after yet another storm.

I am grateful our area remained relatively unscathed save for some battered trees and broken branches, and that we haven’t lost power for too long.  We don’t have a hoard of emergency supplies, but we do have our flashlights, extra batteries, water, and a few go-to pantry staples.  Some of which go into this dish.  Here’s a little something for a “rainy day”.

Pea & Bacon Soup (with bacon bits and garlic croutons)
  • Olive oil
  • 1 white onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped + 1 clove finely minced
  • 150 grams + 100 grams slab bacon, chopped
  • 500 grams frozen peas
  • 3-4 cups water (750 ml – 1 liter)
  • Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
  • 3-4 slices day old bread, chopped

- Heat a pot over medium high heat.  Add the oil and when this is hot add the onions and the 4 cloves chopped garlic.  Sauté until the onions are soft and translucent, taking care not to brown the garlic.
-  Add the 150 grams bacon and let this fry, stirring occasionally, until some of the bacon fat has rendered, about 3-4 minutes.
- Add the peas and toss, just until it loses its frozen appearance.  Add 3 cups water (to start) and simmer gently for about 10 minutes.  Take this off the heat and let it cool a bit.
-  When the soup has had a chance to cool slightly transfer to a blender or use an immersion blender to process until smooth.  Place the soup back on the heat and season with the salt and pepper to taste.  If it is too thick for your liking then add more water.
- While your soup is cooking, or while it is cooling, you can make your bacon bits and croutons: Heat a skillet over high heat.  When hot, add the 100 grams chopped bacon and cook until fat is rendered and bacon is starting to brown and crisp at some edges.  Remove the bacon from the pan, leaving the rendered fat behind still on the heat.  Into the hot fat add your bread and the 1 clove minced garlic.  Fry, tossing, until the bread is crisp and golden.  Remove from pan and set aside.
- Serve the soup with the bacon bits and croutons to go over each serving.

I call this rainy day food for two reasons: firstly because who doesn’t like hot soup when it is gloomy and wet outside?  And secondly because it is made with ingredients I usually always have stashed away…which is really all you have left to use when a howling tropical cyclone is keeping you from going anywhere.  Frozen peas and bacon are fixtures in my freezer.  Bacon is a savior in so many situations…especially when you need to perk up a blah dish.  Frozen peas ensures that you always have a vegetable at the ready, even if you haven’t had time to buy fresh from the market.  I need to mention though that there is a third reason: I absolutely love both!

On the same note as these “freezer staples”, I guess I should mention here the bread for the croutons.  I never throw bread out…even the straggling last slices, or hardened ends.  I toss everything into a bag and keep them in the freezer (actually I freeze all my bread…they stay fresher that way).  If you have old bread in the freezer you will always have a way to make croutons and breadcrumbs.  Fight food waste!

This soup is good on its own but is really extra special with the bacon bits and croutons so try to have them together.  If it’s a stormy day then you won’t have much else to do.  This is also excellent with some truffle oil drizzled on top, if you happen to have some around.

I hope you are ok wherever you are…that your power is up, the pieces picked up, the house dry, and that you have something warm and sustaining on your table.  Wishing you all a restful weekend!

P.S.  Due to all that’s been happening, and power being down for so many, I’ll be extending the deadline for entries for my Singapore Cooking cookbook giveaway to next week.  You still have a chance to win!  Just leave a comment on this post…that’s it!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Kari Ayam Spicy Chicken Curry & A Giveaway

We just got back from a short but sweet holiday in the vibrant, energetic city of Hong Kong.  Although I am an absolute island girl, and I do enjoy the great outdoors (as long as no sports or creepy-crawlies are involved), I am also a city girl (as contradictory as that may sound) -- I love tall buildings, busy streets, and concrete jungles.  And as far as cities go, Hong Kong is pretty amazing.  It is a tiny little island teeming with activity and action…from executive offices high up in the sky to back rooms in sketchy alleyways, there is always something happening in Hong Kong.  I’ve always thought that while other cities may have different beats, Hong Kong has an electric current.  You can feel its hum as you walk the streets, everyone and everything going just five paces faster than you, no matter how hard you try to keep up.

The trip was a spur the moment ticket purchase, a couple of months back when the airline had one of their crazy sales where everything is 75% off.  So I decided to book us for C’s birthday weekend…just us.  We hadn’t had a trip all to ourselves since our little ones came along and I thought, Little C being 4 and Little H being 1 and my mother having moved in 8 floors above us, that it was about time. 

It was a wonderful four days filled with tramping around the city for fantastic food (you can see just how fantastic on my instagram), sleeping in (oh glorious luxury!), not having to clean up after ourselves, eating cherries in bed, setting our own pace, popping in and out of shops, enjoying random coffee stops, spontaneous laughter and uninterrupted conversation.  I really believe that, just as me-time is important in any relationship, couple-time is important for any family.  I think all mamas and papas need to be able to take some time alone and recalibrate, and I’m very grateful we had the opportunity to do it.

Now it’s very much back-to-work mode over here but I am refreshed and invigorated from this weekend jaunt.  And although I have a mountain of work to plod through I haven’t forgotten my promise of a giveaway…and truth be told have been so excited to share this with you!

Staying in the vicinity of Asia, I will be giving away one copy of Singapore Cooking by Terry Tan & Christopher Tan.  I have been pouring over all the recipes and decided on this to try out (for now…more to surely follow).

Kari Ayam Spicy Chicken Curry
  • 1 large chicken cut into 10-12 pieces (I used the equivalent amount in chicken thighs and drumsticks)
  • 5 tablespoons oil
  • 3 medium potatoes, peeled and quartered
  • 3 cups (750 ml) thin coconut milk
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
Spice Paste:
  • 1 small onion, sliced
  • 3 slices fresh ginger
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 2 tablespoons ground coriander
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground fennel
  • 2-3 teaspoons ground red pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
- Grind all the spice paste ingredients together to form a paste.  Add water as necessary to keep the blades turning.  Set aside.
- Heat the oil in a wok over medium high heat and fry the potatoes for 4-5 minutes or until slightly browned.  Remove and set aside.  Add the spice paste to the wok and stir-fry for 6-7 minutes, stirring constantly, until fragrant.
- Add the chicken pieces and stir well.  Add the coconut milk, salt, sugar, potatoes, and simmer, partially covered, for 40-50 minutes or until the chicken is tender.  Serve hot.

Note: You can substitute 1 cinnamon stick, 3 cloves, and 3 cardamom pods for their ground counterparts.

I served this topped with fried onions and toasted pine nuts – it’s not totally traditional but I thought it was a good complement.  This recipe makes for a lot or rich, creamy sauce so it is perfect paired with mounds of steaming rice! I admit, I have very few qualms about using spice pastes from a packet or bottle but made-from-scratch spice pastes, as in this recipe here, are truly so much more aromatic.  If you are pressed for time, you can make this a day before and store it in the fridge, so the next day it’s simply a matter or throwing everything together.  I haven’t tried it yet but I suspect you could freeze the pastes too, providing for even further in-advance preparation.  Making more spice pastes from scratch is definitely something I want to experiment more with.  In fact, the chapter of Singapore Cooking that I am most excited to explore is the first one, entitled “marinades, chutneys, sambals and achars” – delving into all kinds of condiments and flavorings.

And by sometime end of next week, one of you will be exploring these chapters too! As before, no complicated rules for this giveaway.  Just leave a comment on this post or drop me an email and that is it.  At the end of next week I’ll be putting your names in a hat and will pick the lucky winner!

So we are once again back at the week’s end…I hope you have something lovely and restful planned.  I’m planning to pop in on Yummy Eats tomorrow, so many delicious things in store!  Are any of you going? :)

Best of luck to everyone who wants to win this cookbook!

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Chickpeas and Chorizo

Pork and beans is something that I have eaten, and loved, throughout my whole childhood (and well into adulthood).  Yes, I do mean good old pork and beans in the can.  It may not be the healthiest, but it was something my brother and I always looked forward to when we were little, and as such, something that can never be truly “bad” for me, because it holds such a strong sense of nostalgia.  

I remember what my parents would do, to make it taste more “home-cooked”, was to sauté some onions and garlic, and perhaps a bit of bacon, before adding the pork and beans.  And then the “secret” ingredient, a small dollop of mustard to take away the canned taste.  We loved it!  And to this day, the few times we have pork and beans, I prepare it this way.

In the interest of cutting back on the canned and processed food however, I try to make different versions around the same theme of pork and beans.  And since I adore both pork, and legumes of any kind, I love thinking of new ways to serve them.  One such recipe appeared in my column in Yummy magazine – using pork belly and green beans, cooked in a very Filipino style marinade of soy sauce and calamansi.  Some of my favorite dishes involve both pork and beans – fabada, lentejas, even monggo.

Here is another version I threw together when I was pressed for time and needed to put a meal on the table in no time flat.  The pork coming from smoky Spanish chorizo and the beans from creamy and earthy chickpeas. This can seriously be made with hardly a ruffle to your feathers.  And it’s delicious!

Chickpeas and Chorizo
  • Olive oil
  • 1 red onion, sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 150-170 grams cherry tomatoes, halved (or if they are unusually large, quartered)
  • 100-150 grams Spanish chorizo, sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon pimenton de La Vera
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 400-gram can chickpeas, drained
  • Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
  • Optional: A couple of sprigs of parsley, leaves roughly chopped

- Heat a skillet or wok over medium high heat.  Add a couple of good glugs of olive oil and, when the oil is hot, add the onion and garlic.  Sauté this until the onion is golden and caramelized.
- Add the cherry tomatoes and toss to coat in oniony juices.  Let this fry and sizzle for a couple of minutes, tossing once or twice, until tomatoes are starting to slump but not totally mushy.
- Push the tomatoes to one side of the pan and add the chorizo.  Fry the slices for a couple of minutes on each side, add the pimenton and oregano, then toss with the tomatoes.  Add the chickpeas and mix.  Season to taste with salt and pepper and cook for a couple of minutes more until the flavors have melded together.
- Top with chopped parsley if using.

I realize that I’ve said that I am trying to cut back on canned food but I do use canned chickpeas here.  I try as much as I can, to avoid them, but I won’t drive myself insane doing it.  Canned products I usually have on hand are the aforementioned chickpeas, and canned tomatoes (and coconut milk).  Sometimes a can of Spam or corned beef or vienna sausage find their way into the pantry…care of the husband ;)  No disaster...I have good intentions but I try not to be a drill sergeant about it.

Anyway, enough caveats.  This is incredibly easy to make, quick, and tasty.  If you haven’t got any fresh parsley on hand, no worries, leave it out.  Add some quickly blanched spinach (or simply dressed salad greens) on the side, and maybe a thick slice of artisan-y bread (something from the sourdough persuasion would be nice) and you have a complete meal.  That being said, I am Filipina so I love this piled on some just-cooked rice!  You can drizzle on some extra virgin olive oil and just a touch of balsamic vinegar (or better yet balsamic glaze) for some added pizazz.  You can also add a few shakes of cumin while cooking, then pile everything in a pita with some pickled chili pepper.  If you have leftovers, or a hangover, it’s great topped with a fried egg for breakfast.

On other topics...I am off to Hong Kong tomorrow!  A long planned weekend away for both C and I, booked in the spur of the moment months ago when an airline’s promotional fare was too good to resist.  I’m looking forward to some much needed relaxation, sleeping in, delicious food (recommendations welcome!), and, of course, just being with my guy :)  When I get back I have another giveaway planned for you all!  Until then, wishing you all a wonderful weekend!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Teriyaki Salmon with Sriracha Cream Sauce

Did I mention I work from home?  I must have, somewhere along the way.  In any case, I do.  Work from home that is.  Not in the freelance, make your own schedule and take your own projects kind of way, but in the fully-employed, full-time, shifting schedule kind of way.  A lot of people have the misconceived notion that I type blissfully on my keyboard everyday, writing about food and blogging about my random, and (let’s be honest) often trivial thoughts.  Well…I do do that.  Otherwise you wouldn’t be here reading this now.  But it's something I do during my free time…you know, that time after work when other people are heading to the gym?  Yup.  I choose food over the gym…as I have most of my life.

Anyway, enough of my lifetime avoidance of the gym and anything even vaguely resembling exercise.

So.  I work from home in a fairly ordinary job, which only gets complicated when I try to explain it, so I won’t even try to do that here, where most of you have come for something tasty and edible.  It has all the trimmings of a regular office-job (shifts, schedules, team buildings and Christmas parties!) in a home-based setting.  It seems like a good compromise, but really, as anyone who works full time from home can tell you, it is quite the juggle.  Just imagine having your whole house and all its occupants in your office…pandemonium! 

But it is a juggle a gladly take on.  Because I can bring my daughter to school every morning.  Because I can go to the bank during off hours so there is hardly a queue.  Because the opportunity to be close to my children every day (even if I am behind a locked door – yes, boundaries are very important when you work from home!) is priceless.  Because I love wearing flip-flops to work.  Because I can have long lunches with my mom when I’m doing the night shift.  Because traffic is bad and I have motion-sickness, and now I don’t have to commute.  Because now all I have to spend for is “fun” clothes.

And because I can make my own lunch!

Teriyaki Salmon with Sriracha Cream Sauce
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 2-3 tablespoons sriracha
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 salmon filets (total weight about 500-600 grams)

- Make the sriracha cream sauce first: whisk together the mayonnaise, sriracha, and condensed milk.  Start with 2 tablespoons sriracha and work your way up if you’d like more heat.  Set this aside in the fridge.
- In a small bowl, whisk the cornstarch together with 1/4 cup water and set aside.
- In a saucepan over medium heat combine the soy sauce, brown sugar, ground ginger, garlic powder, honey, and 1 cup water.  Mix well and bring to a simmer, then stir in the cornstarch mixture.  Simmer, stirring, until the mixture has thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 3-5 minutes.  Take off the heat and let it cool down to room temperature.
- In a bowl or large ziplock bag combine the salmon fillets and the teriyaki marinade, tossing well to coat all sides.  Marinate for 30 minutes to overnight, turning the fillets occasionally.
- When you are ready to cook, place the salmon fillets, along with the marinade, in a lightly greased baking dish and bake in a pre-heated 400F oven for about 20 minutes (or until fish flakes easily with a fork), basting the salmon with the marinade in the dish once or twice during cooking.
- Once cooked, remove the salmon from the remaining marinade (now its sauce) in the baking dish.  Place the sauce in a small saucepan and give it a quick simmer, just a minute.  Serve the salmon with the remaining teriyaki sauce, the sriracha cream sauce, and a smattering of sliced green onions.

Working from home in a full time job can be just as busy and stressful as any office job, especially if you have set hours (and overtime!).  So it helps to have some good dishes up your sleeve for when times get frantic.  It also helps to have Pinterest to get meal ideas…which is exactly where I found this salmon dish! **(If you'd like to see what inspires me, or what I'm possibly thinking of having for dinner, you can take a peek at my Pinterest boards here)

If you are pressed for time (and who isn’t nowadays?) you can make the teriyaki marinade and the sriracha cream sauce a day before, perhaps sticking the salmon in the marinade already.  And then it will just be a matter to sticking the whole lot in the oven the next day.  The ease with which you can make this dish however it totally overshadowed by how delicious it is.  Be prepared for the addictive quality of the sweet/spicy sriracha cream sauce.  Just be prepared!  Also, have rice, freshly cooked, and hot, and plentiful.

Whether you work in an office or at home (in a closet, like me, if you absolutely must know), we are all putting in hours, busy and tired and in need of sustenance.  I hope this dish helps put a little more spring in your step, as it did in mine.  We can do this worker bees!