Monthly Archives: October 2004

Feeling MaLa Porky

Szechuan peppercorns are featured mostly in the cuisines of Northern China. They are not true peppercorns but the dried berries of a member of the citrus fruit family, delivering heat and flavor, “ma la,” a spicy tongue-numbing effect with a fragrance more akin to rosemary or lavender.
It used to be very hard to find–I think it was banned ignominiously and unjustly accused of carrying a sort of plant blight–but it is once again available in store shelves.
Store the peppercorns in a dry, well-sealed container and they keep indefinitely.
They must be dry-toasted then ground to extract flavor:
Toast the amount you need in a dry pan over medium heat until brown, around 5 minutes. Remove from heat, let cool and grind.

The following recipe, highlighted by the pungent flavor of Szechuan peppercorns, is a favorite cold-weather dish of our family.
Ken Hom’s Twice-cooked Pork
To a large pot of boiling water, add 2 to 2 &1/2 pounds of pork belly and add 6 slices of ginger and 6 whole scallions. Cover tightly and simmer for 1 &1/2 hours; remove the meat, drain well, and let cool thoroughly. Slice into 1/4 inch pieces.

Heat a wok until very hot but not smoking. Add 3 tbsp. of peanut oil and the pork slices and stir-fry for 10 minutes. Drain off any excess oil. Add 2 tbsp. finely minced garlic and 1 tbsp. of finely chopped peeled fresh ginger and stir-fry 10 seconds. Add 3 scallions(3-in. pieces), continute to stir-fry 3 minutes. Then add: 1 &1/2 tbsp. chili bean sauce, 1 tbsp. rice wine, 1 tbsp. light soy sauce, 2 tsp. sugar and 1 tsp. salt and stir-fry 3 minutes more, mixing well. Serve hot…

with lots of rice.

Lobsters, a sequel

Another recipe to use up Great Aunt’s lobster presents for #2son. This one was inspired by an intriguing story (*from a defunct blog, sadly*) about crabs and the secret recipe from Vietnam…I chanced upon Mai Pham’s “Best of Vietnamese and Thai Cooking” at a discount bookstore and found a recipe for “gingered crab with Szechuan peppercorns”, which I adapted for the “extra” lobsters.

3 to 4 lobsters or crabs (dungeness or blue)
3 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. minced garlic
1 tbsp. minced fresh ginger
1 tsp. szechuan (roasted, ground) peppercorns
1/2 tsp. cracked black peppercorns
1 tbsp. sea salt
1/2 cup homemade unsalted broth (chicken or pork), or canned
1/2 cup red bell pepper, julienned
1 fresh Thai bird chili (labuyo) or jalapeno, thinly sliced
3 green onions, cut diagonally 1-inch pieces
cilantro sprigs for garnish

Cut crabs or lobsters, removing the tomalley and roe and reserving for sauce.
(Alternatively, boil crabs or lobsters briefly before chopping).
If using crabs, remove underbelly “apron” and discard.
Chop up claws and crab body or lobster tails so that seasonings can penetrate.
In a large work or pan, heat the oil and butter over high heat. Wait until the oil is very hot, then add garlic, ginger, peppercorns, black pepper, salt and the reserved crab or lobster roe/tomalley. Quickly stir fry until fragrant, 20 seconds. Add the crab/lobster pieces and toss in the seasonings for about 3 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and add the chicken stock, cover and cook for another 4 minutes. Uncover and add the red bell pepper, chili and green onions.

Stir-fry until the red bell pepper starts to wilt and the sauce is slightly reduced, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and garnish with cilantro. Serve immediately and with lots of hot steamed rice and napkins.

Lawyerly Chickens

I knew I was going to roast a chicken for my 2 younger kids’ family celebration, but I wasn’t sure about a Western style recipe (sage/butter? thyme?). Searching for a nice size roaster wasn’t that easy (most were too small at the supermarket) until I went to the wholesale club. Problem was I had to buy 2 breasty birds. Hmm, okay fine I’ll freeze one. Then I remembered Atty. Sassy’s whole roast chicken. A recipe for twins.
I followed her recipe exactly, only substituting scallions for leeks,and marinating only a day and a half instead of two.

after being sealed in marinade(garlic,dark soy, lemon juice, pepper, chili sauce, steak sauce, brown sugar) and turning several times in ziploc bags…
stuffing with scallions,

and a lemon half,
and baking about 2 and a half hours…

It was moist, juicy, tender, delectable…with a distinctively Asian flavor: an instant hit for our family party.

Thanks Sassy for generously posting this recipe. The fragrance of lemon and soy permeated the chicken, and its aroma lingered and spiked our guests’ appetites.


Happy trick or treating to the little ghouls, goblins, fairy princesses and Spidermen…keep safe. Don’t forget to brush your teeth!

Nice Try: brazo de mercedes

My ma baked everything at home: upside-down, chiffon,sponge, pound cakes; she even tried sans rival. But this one she always bought from “Merced” on Quezon Avenue(hmm?) as a merienda (mid afternoon snack) treat for us.
This is my umpteenth attempt, and I will keep trying till I achieve my childhood memory of a high and mighty fluffy Brazo de Mercedes.
Separate 10 eggs. Make sure no part of yolk gets into whites, or the meringue will not fluff. If you have any qualms over your egg separating prowess, separate eggs over a bowl before pouring eggwhites into mixing bowl, egg yolks into a heavy saucepan.

Make filling: beat egg yolks and pour in 1 can of condensed milk and 1 cup heavy cream or half and half. Whisk thoroughly and add 1/4 tsp of orange zest, 1/4 tsp of vanilla extract and a pinch of salt. Cook over low heat, whisking constantly, until thick and of spreading consistency. Remove from heat, set aside to cool completely.

Preheat oven to 350F.
Beat egg whites until bubbly, then add 1 tsp of cream of tartar. Gradually add 1 cup of sugar and beat until stiff but not dry.
Spread meringue into lightly greased, wax paper-lined jelly roll pan.
Bake for about an hour (it will puff up considerably but “calm down” as it cools).
Invert into a sheet of foil or wax paper sprinkled with sugar, then peel off the wax paper on top.
Let cool about 10 minutes then spread cooled custard mixture over the baked meringue.
Roll from the lengthwise side, jelly-roll fashion then set seamside down on a platter and let chill in the refrigerator.

Well…there was a full lunar eclipse last night and my younger uns were tugging at my apron strings to come take a look (cloud cover was too thick, we only saw the last phase!sayang! it won’t happen again for another 50 or so years…)
The Red Sox were playing the Cardinals for the World Series title so everyone was jumpy.
Excuses, excuses. My favorite dining customers ate it anyway. “Persevere to endure!”
brazo de mercedes brazo de mercedes…serve with Earl Grey tea and a splash of milk, cafe au lait or my favorite…Sarsi.

A seafood soup

“finally! lobsters I can eat!”…#2son.

His beloved great aunt surprised him with a visit and a bagful of somewhat softshelled live crustaceans. We were too full from the BOOfey but I had to cook them. To extend the birthday feeling for boyboy the next day I decided to try and make the seafood soup which he loves from China Pearl, our Chinese family’s favorite restaurant for both dimsum and banquets. They serve it with crab meat and it can also be ordered with shark’s fin, but for this I used the Maine lobsters, snow fungus(for texture, it has no distinctive taste) and fish maws(which adds an exotic fishy arome), dried products easily available in Chinese groceries.

I also wanted to try out a new noodle I found intriguing: broad mung bean threads (fat sotanghon) to mimic the texture of shark’s fin. Somewhat.

Start the soup stock early in the day you intend to serve.
I used 3 chicken “torso carcasses” ( all for $1),but necks and backs or even a couple of leg quarters will do; remove as much of extra fat and skin as you can to cut down on grease. Pour in cold water. Bring up to a boil, skim off grey scum, and drop in 2 peeled shallots, a tsp. of whole black peppercorns, salt and ground black pepper. Simmer for about 3 hours. Drop a thin slice of ginger and keep on a low simmer. Taste and adjust seasonings.
Meanwhile, if using snow fungus and fish maw:
soak the snow fungus, about 2 tennis-ball size rounds in cold water ( they will expand as they soak), about an hour. When soft, discard water and chop up finely, discarding tough ends and re-rinsing to remove grit.
soak the fish maw in very hot water, pressing them down into the bowl with a heavy saucer to make sure they stay submerged, also for at least an hour. Discard water and chop finely.
Soak 2 bundles of the bean threads in lukewarm water just until the strands are pliable. Drain and rinse.
Dice or flake the meat from 2 lobsters.
Wash, trim and julienne the white parts of 2 stalks of green onions (scallions).
Finely chop the green part for garnish.
Mince one shallot and fry in 1/4 cup of peanut oil for 10 minutes over medium low heat to make shallot oil. Store in a tightly lidded jar.

Bring the broth up to a rolling boil and add 2 tsp. of light soy sauce (e.g. “Pearl River Bridge brand), 1/4 tsp. of white pepper, 1/2 tsp. of shallot oil, and a pinch of salt. Add white julienned scallions, snow fungus, and fish maws, if using. Test for doneness of fungus-it should have a pleasant crunch. Fish maws must be soft. Add lobster meat and bean threads; bring up to boil once more.
Pour in an egg white while beating broth with a chopstick. Serve at once, garnish with white pepper and chopped green scallions.

*Taste often to avoid oversalting.
Extra shreds of ginger can be added before the fish and dried products are added; my kids like it not too “spicy” so I only used a thin slice.
Verdict: “as good as”!

Last of the turkey talk

“She who hesitates is lost.”

The photo below(of a roast duck) was recovered from bloglimboland. I meant to offer up some tips for those facing, for the very first time, the roasting of a daunting Big Bird.

*Preheat the oven before putting the bird in.
*A pre-brined(as in Manang’s roast chicken post) turkey,usually “Empire” brand kosher, tends to cook up moister; only thing is, it doesn’t have the giblets usually which are good for cooking with the neck for a broth to make gravy with(chef JMom has a recipe). The giblets can be chopped up fine to add on to the gravy.
*An instant-read thermometer helps to gauge doneness; overcooking the beast renders it tough, chewy and dry (which is how most people get turned off from turkey). Generally the turkey is done when the thermometer reads 180F when the tip is inserted deep into the breast (without touching bone) and when the turkey juices run clear (jiggle the thigh bone and cut into meat to check).
*Tent the breast with foil if you notice it is browning too quickly.
*Those “lifting forks”(they look like miniature devils’ pitchforks) are great for transferring the turkey from the hot roasting pan to the serving platter;
let the turkey rest and recover, about 10-15 minutes before carving. This way the juices stay within and keep the meat moist.

It’s just fun to celebrate this holiday where the emphasis is on family, togetherness, and staying warm with loved ones, in front of a table covered “wall-to-wall” with FOOD.

roasting a bird

Happy Birthday & an easy tasty icing

designed by #2 son: Koala cookies and pumpkin pocky, on
chocolate sour cream cake with mocha whipped cream

I was going to make cupcakes for sharing with his schoolmates, but there are a lot of new rules now: no more sugary treats,(“concerns with childhood obesity from the school nurses,”) no ice cream, no party hats. “School is a place for academics, not a place for parties.” He didn’t look too disappointed but I was so looking forward to taking pictures with his friends during snacktime, just as we did last year.
I scrapped the plan for buying an ice cream cake, after his long awaited “BOOfey” birthday dinner, to top his “5” candle with, and decided to go ahead with the “cupcake cake”.
I just love how easy it is to make them happy.

Any cake can be made into cupcakes; just remember to lower the oven temperature and adjust cooking time.
An easy tasty icing, not too sweet: 1 cup whipping cream, chilled; 1 tbsp. extrafine sugar; 1 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa, preferably dutch-processed; 1 tsp. instant espresso powder. Mix everything and then whip in the electric mixer at high speed until beater marks form. (Watch closely).Continue beating until stiff peaks form.
The only thing is, it won’t keep well (you have to consume every little lick of it!).

Kare Kare without Mama

…Sita, that is.
The last time, seems a long while ago, it was too thick and rich (“nakakasuya”) from the peanut butter. My daughter has been asking me to cook this since so I decided to keep Mama Sita in the larder and cook from scratch,and see if I could replicate lola’s dish.
I always thought this was such a unique Filipino entree until my daughter’s school PTO churned out a homey recipe book solicited from the families: one teacher submitted “groundnut stew from West Africa,” with a few differences: the addition of tomatoes in theirs and our more exotic meats and the toasted rice powder in ours.
My grandmother assigned to me the tedious task of pounding the rice and peanuts with the cracked stone mortar and pestle. I must have “vented” on that mortar, because the rice powder was fine and the peanuts almost creamy.
I don’t have to vent anymore, and I use my old coffee grinder and a mini chopper for the peanuts.

Start the day before you plan to serve kare kare.
For the meat: boil in well-seasoned water(salt and peppercorns, bay leaf,shallot or onion), your choice of beef cuts: oxtail, feet, honey comb or book tripe, tendons, short ribs (meaty cuts on the bone are recommended); skim off scummy particles as needed.
Cook until barely tender (they will tenderize more in the peanutty broth).
If using tripe, boil separately in several changes of water (if there is any gamey odor); and then simmer in water, bay leaf, peppercorns, 1 shallot or onion, 1 unpeeled garlic clove, salt and pepper. A thin slice of ginger cuts down this odor too. Slice the tendons and tripe uniformly.

Refrigerate the meat and broth so that the next day you can easily remove the solidified fat and thus cut down the “sebo”–how to translate this?hmm–grease?.
Bring broth up to a simmer and keep nearby.
2 tbsp. achuete (annatto seeds)(in 1 tbsp.warm vegetable oil, add seeds and let steep)

1/2 cup whole unsalted peanuts, ground
1/3 cup sticky rice, toasted and ground
2 cloves garlic, crushed or minced
1 large onion, finely chopped
Vegetables: (choose 2 or 3) long beans(sitaw), eggplant, snow pea pods, green(Baguio) beans, okra, banana heart; here in the U.S. I have tried zucchini, baby bok choy(pechay), hearts of palm(canned), and my favorite, frozen artichoke hearts.

In a large stewpot,saute the garlic and onions in vegetable oil until onions turn translucent. Add broth from meat and bring up to a boil. Cook vegetables until desired crunch/texture. Scoop out and set aside. Add meat, strained achuete oil, ground peanuts and rice. Simmer, stirring occasionally, to prevent rice and peanuts from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Adjust seasonings. Add more hot broth if needed.
Gently return the vegetables to the pot, bring back up to simmer. Serve with bagoong guisado (sauteed fermented shrimp paste).

The Blue Lobster

A relative from Maine sent this picture to my #2son for his birthday (he turns 5 tomorrow, *sniff,* that’s my last baby!). He loves to eat, lobsters especially, and we sort of take them for granted and don’t cook them often. They’re everywhere, even some convenience stores sell them. So when he saw the picture and after I read my aunt’s caption he was very bewildered.
“Occuring once in a million, this 1-lb. lobster will never be eaten and now resides in the Bar Harbor aquarium.”
“Why did she send me this? How come we can’t eat it? Will she send me some that I can eat???”
Hehe, foodie sonny, Happy Birthday.