Thursday, September 30, 2010

Abraw o Inabraw (Vegetables Stewed in Fish Paste)

Another popular regional dish from the northern Luzon area in the Philippines is “abraw” or “inabraw”. I believe the other Ilocano term “dinengdeng” also refers to the same dish. “Abraw” is a simple vegetable dish where several types of vegetables are stewed in a small amount of water and seasoned with “bagoong” or fish paste. Sometime during the cooking process, a flavoring meat usually fried or grilled fish or dried shrimp fry or krill are added to further improve the taste of both the broth and the cooked veggies.

For me, this dish is not really something we can brag about. After all, from its original and humble inception, it is prepared in a simple, easy and straightforward procedure utilizing simple ordinary vegetables and inexpensive local seasoning. That’s all. It is basically intended to be a simple meal of a rather simple, and probably frugal, family. But out of its simplicity, the dish is tasty and satisfying…… not to mention very healthy. That it has become popular not only in the Ilocos region (Philippines) but also in other neighboring regions and even in the Manila Capital area.

Being a vegetable dish using fresh local harvests, it is best eaten with some fried or grilled fish along with lots of steamed rice. But it also goes well with other seafood dishes like the “halabos na hipon o sugpo” (steamed shrimp or prawn) which we ate alongside "abraw” and posted here before. If you like grilled or boiled or steamed veggies dipped in “bagoong” in your meal (like me), then you will appreciate this dish and probably love it later on.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Swimming and Ultra Light Shore Fishing at Kahawa Beach, Sri Lanka

As a part of our group’s rest and recreation, we decided to make a short swim on one of the many beautiful beaches of southern Sri Lanka last Sunday. Since we were at the Koggala Beach Park the other week, where I did some quick shore fishing as well, it has been suggested by some members to re-visit Kahawa Beach this time. We have been to the nice and highly visited swimming place one time and would like to check it out once again.

Like Koggala Beach, Kahawa Beach is particularly a safe, easily accessible and highly suitable swimming area, even for kids, frequented by many locals due to the natural pool that the rocks on the water several meters away from the beach creates. Basically, the place is offering quality swimming opportunities for families and friends, uninterrupted by the roaring waves pretty normal to most Sri Lankan coastlines. The enclosing rock is serving as a natural breakwater, providing protection for the pool of crystal clear water over fine white sand.

As featured before, Sri Lanka is a beautiful tiny island surrounded by rich waters offering an abundance of white sandy beaches, lush greenery, exciting water adventures and amazing marine ecosystem. It has a very healthy coral reefs and wide oceans providing shelters to numerous varieties of coral and sub tropical fishes and other astounding marine life. Kahawa Beach, though public and not really a top tourists destination, is aptly one of them.

While I have mentioned in my posts some well known and popular beaches in the past such as Hikkaduwa Beach, Unawatuna Beach, Bentota Beach and Koggala Beach, I considered Kahawa as also important and worthy of praises. Its fine white beach and clear blue water pretty much support that statement of mine.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Homemade Tuna Sandwich Spread

Our group has been consuming a lot of chicken meat for the last 5 years that we’ve been assigned in a highway project here in Sri Lanka. It’s mainly due to the scarcity and high cost of pork and seasonal availability of fish. In my estimate, out of the 21 main meals that we have in a week, considering 3 meals per day, more than half of the meals are made up of chicken either as the main viand or major ingredient in cases of vegetable dishes. Obviously, there were days when we have chicken for both lunch and dinner. We love chicken, right! :-)

So when I again decided to prepare a homemade sandwich spread the other day, I opted to use canned tuna meat instead of the usual boiled chicken flakes. While chicken sandwich spread which I featured here before remains my most favorite amongst other sandwich spread variations, we felt using tuna will serve as a sort of reprieve for the many days of continuously over-indulging into the reliable chicken.

Tuna are massive, fast swimming sea water fish with muscle tissue that ranges from pink to dark red. The fish are highly sought-after by both fishermen and anglers alike either for commercial consumption or sports and recreational pursuit. While there are over 48 different tuna species, the term tuna generally refers to those that belong to the family of “Scombridae” and particularly under the genus “Thunnus”, which includes 9 species. The yellow fin tuna is the most prominent specie and probably among the most important in terms of culinary application, although not the most expensive.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Tilapia in Oyster Sauce and Veggies - Escabeche Style

Like many other people all over the world, Filipinos extensively eat tilapia because it is a good source of protein; especially one with a low saturated fat, low calorie, low carbohydrate and low sodium. Additionally, tilapia meat is a sure provider of essential vitamins and minerals such as phosphorus, niacin, selenium, vitamin B12 and potassium. You are right, that’s half truth. Not many people knew about that health benefits stuff. We eat tilapia because it is delicious, widely available and relatively inexpensive, sort of within the Third World’s average family budget. Okay, okay, it’s cheap. That’s it! :-) But tasty, huh!

Tilapia, St. Peter’s fish and pla-pla when large, are just some of the names referring to the third most important fish in fish farming or aquaculture worldwide, next to carps and salmons. The top three fish, along with European seabass, catfish and cod, comprised the top six farmed fish in the world feeding hundreds of millions of humans, for quite a long time now.

However, due to large size, rapid growth, easy production, tolerance to high stocking density, high profitability and palatability, tilapia have been the focus of major farming research and developments and it will just be a matter of time before they become the leader among the most important cultured fish all over the world.

Another good thing about tilapia is that it can be cooked in so many ways. I have previously featured one way to enjoy this farm’s bounty by cooking it into zesty “paksiw na isda”. Similarly, like pony fish, “pompano” and “talakitok” it can also be cooked as “pangat" or "pinangat” or “pesa” and “ginataan” like “dalag” or mudfish. Even simpler, the fish can also be grilled, fried, steamed, stewed and baked, all requiring very few basic ingredients.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Coleslaw or Slaw (Cabbage Salad)

If you like KFC coleslaw, then you will probably like this coleslaw version of mine. I thought of making this salad as an accompaniment to the fried chicken dinner we had last Sunday. With a deep-fried chicken that taste like Max’s and coleslaw that taste like KFC’s (that sounds very boastful though, not very like me) what could we possible ask more for a dinner? None really, except for a cool cola drinks and probably some vanilla flavored ice cream at the end of the meal. :-)

Coleslaw or simply slaw in some American dialects is a vegetable salad mainly consisting of shredded raw cabbage. Sometimes different varieties of cabbage, such as red cabbage, as well as shredded carrots are used for better color and texture. Other variations of the dish include the addition of other ingredients, such as pepper, onion, grated cheese, pineapple and apple. What distinguishes coleslaw from cabbage as a condiment is that it is mixed with a dressing which traditionally consists of vegetable oil and vinegar or vinaigrette.

Coleslaw is a side dish generally eaten with fried chicken, barbecue, fried fish fillet and potato fries. It is also widely used as a sandwich ingredient like in hamburgers and hotdogs. With its popularity, many variations exist. Some U.S. variations contain buttermilk and/or mayonnaise, prepared mustard and sometimes ketchup and vinegar in lieu of mayonnaise. In Sweden, there is a version that is made with vinegar and oil and usually served with pizza. Interestingly, there is another variant called broccoli slaw where broccoli is used in place of the cabbage.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Homemade Barbecue Sauce and Chicken Barbecue

I love barbecue. I love grilling. Yeah, I know the blog title says it all. I gain joy while barbecuing. In spite of the process being somewhat messy, it’s fun and rewarding. There is something in it that lightens my spirit. The smoky smell that it generates while the meat cooks. The dripping sauce that causes the familiar barbecue aroma as droplets touches the hot coal. The gorgeous lightly charred skin of the meat. The tender and luscious meat with a combination of sweet, salty, sourly, earthy and many other flavors quite difficult to describe which all-together, encompass that exquisite taste that can only be experienced in a true barbeque. Expectedly, I have been preparing this dish on a regular basis.

Recently, I prepared a chicken barbecue which I marinated overnight but due to heavy rain, I was not able to grill it outdoors over charcoal fire and settled to cooking it inside the oven instead. Remarkably, the chicken came out still very juicy and delicious. The recipe I used there is basically the same as the one I applied in my pork barbeque post long time ago with just slight improvements, particularly on the amount of brown sugar.

Since I am now very pleased with this barbecue recipe, I decided to transform it into the next level; by creating a barbeque sauce which can be prepared early on, keep ready inside the fridge and use any time when the need arises……simply and easy. It will serve as a handy topping or dipping sauce and a marinade at the same time. Pretty much like the usual barbeque sauce we can buy from groceries and supermarkets, except that it is homemade, using all-natural ingredients, no extenders, no added preservatives, no artificial coloring and most importantly, it does not cost a fortune. You can use the huge savings in buying more meat instead. :-)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Igado Ni Nanay Consuelo (Pork, Heart & Liver Braised in Vinegar & Spices a la Mommy Consuelo)

When most of us think of good food, one that is comforting and truly satisfying, one that we have enjoyed over a long period of time and became part of our system and one that is perpetually inculcated somewhere within the small patches of our brain, we remember our mothers or grandmothers. No, not mothers in-law, I’m speaking of tasty food in general, not just bitter gourd or “amplaya”, nor palm vinegar or “sukang paombong” nor green mangoes without “bagoong”. Okay, okay I’m just kidding with that second sentence. I love my mother in-law. :-) But seriously, mothers and grandmothers are the ones responsible for the memory of the foods we loved growing-up with. And they too, always remind us of such wonderful table fares they can create.

While there are some exceptional mommies and grannies out there who prepare “suffer” rather than dinner, they are, in a larger context, our heroes or heroines when it comes to delicious everyday food……most probably the ones that sustained our growth. My mom in particular, has her really tasty “pansit bihon” or Filipino rice noodles in soy sauce as well as her luscious “nilaga or linaga” or pork stew with vegetables, which my daughter love so much, to mention just a few. I remember my granny or “lola” preparing the best ginger tea or “salabat” with purple yam or “ube” during the cool season of Christmas. I haven't had that for quite a long time. Everyone has such a recollection.

A colleague for one, has a mother who knows how to prepare dishes that one can really be proud of. On several times, we were lucky to have sampled her “igado” or a Filipino dish composed of chopped pork, liver and heart braised in vinegar and we have been always ecstatic to have it again. The mother whom everyone calls Nanay Elou or Nanay Consuelo is so kind to share her secret formula in cooking her yummy “igado” for all the people who are fortunate to have stumbled upon this blog. If you are one of them, enjoy this rare opportunity.:-)

Monday, September 13, 2010

Estopado - Pata (Pork Knuckle Braised in Pineapple Juice)

For the first time in 5 years, we chanced upon some cut up pork knuckle and hock in the supermarket here in the southwestern Sri Lanka. Spontaneously smile appeared on our faces …………as if we saw a long lost friend ……………an ally of sort not seen in a long while……and instantly flashes of good memories started to come in……… at an exponential speed ………just like a state-of-the-art computer generating a rather vague but nostalgic images from the not so distant past. Then I saw my mom, my sisters, my aunts, my cousins and many other family members and friends who for so many times I’ve seen joyfully devouring on this particular cut of pork called “pata” in the Philippines.

No, we did not buy a kilo. We bought 5 lbs or more than 2 kilograms. It’s much yes but who cares, we might not find them again next week. And we want to make the most out of this rare opportunity to enjoy the food we have been craving for some time. We thought of “paksiw”……… “kare-kare” ……… “pata tim” ………… and finally………”estopado”. After all, it’s been a while since we have that Filipino braised and stew dish called “estopado” in our dining table. With the delicate and gelatinous fat and skin as well as succulent muscle meat with layers of tendons of pork knuckle, “estopado” is a likely source of a meal made in heaven.

“Estopado” is a sweet-tangy Filipino pork dish where pork, usually with layer of fat including the hind, is braised and then simmered in pineapple juice and spices and slightly sweetened with brown sugar. Slices of ripe bananas are usually added and sometimes even chunks of pineapple for variation. While there are several distinct recipes in the internet and cook books that use the same name, this version here is the kind of “estopado” that I am familiar with. Variations using other meat such as ducks and other exotic game birds and poultry are usually spicy, no longer including bananas and cooked until dry and oily or with just a small quantity of sauce that remains.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Tofu and Mushroom Delight

I hated tofu or "tokwa" during my younger years. Probably most kids of my generations, and even other generations before and after ours, shared the same feeling. But that changed when I grew up and learned to explore with food, outside the boundaries of usual family dishes. I developed an appreciation of its health benefits and eventually its unique taste that it only acquires from various flavoring ingredients that it is cooked with. It is basically tasteless on its own and requires good batter or sauce or broth to be truly enjoyed and admired as a main food.

Although I have already posted two tofu recipes here before such as the simple fried tofu or “pritong tokwa” and the much elaborate sizzling tofu in oyster sauce, I am still in constant search for new ways to get pleasure from the rather bland but healthy and energy-packed food from China. Interestingly, other nations have also noticed and showed acceptance of the food item as an exciting addition to their cuisines. It is either for health reasons or due to its wide usage and applications to vegan principle (not using or consuming animal products) and vegetarian (plant-based) diets.

An alternative way of preparing the food is in combination with the tasty abalone or oyster mushrooms cook in mayonnaise and soy sauce. While the resulting dish will resemble the one with oyster sauce, its taste will be distinctly sourly and salty as oppose to sweet and salty of the sizzling tofu. Appreciation to this dish will then be a matter of taste preference. While I am biased over the one using oyster sauce for I really love that dish, this remains a stimulating option, especially for the daring and adventurous in taste.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

CSN Stores - Your Need is Just a Click Away


With the proliferation of so many internet-based stores selling rather inferior and almost regrettable goods, it is such a relief to find one that carries high quality and admirable product lines such as gorgeous dutch ovens. I am referring to CSN Stores, a fast-growing, on-line shopping company providing shoppers and customers, ranging from the budget–conscious to the luxurious, with easy access to the best home, office and school and outdoor products.

A visit to the CSN Stores website will enchant you with its 200+ stores and wide-range of goods which categories include furniture, home d├ęcor, housewares, home improvement, outdoor living, baby & kids, school & office supply, shoes, bags & luggage, pet and health & fitness. Yes, it’s remarkably a lot………..under a single site.

My navigation of their website came out easy and fun. The photos are crisp and clear and you can truly appreciate the looks of the products. To provide you with a quick glimpse of what their stores are offering, here are just a few of my most exciting finds:

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Seafood Balls and Veggies Hotpot (Steamboat)

Hot pot style of preparing and eating food is not only satisfying but also fun and fulfilling. Apart from the fact that hot pot is a truly tasty stew and soup dishes combined into one which, due to increased level of excitement in the preparation, could cause diners to somehow over-eat and feel really full afterwards, it is also a source of personal fulfillment and pride. The participation of the diners with the associated form of control in the cooking process somehow provides a feeling of accomplishment or achievement of sort, both in the dish and in the meal.

Hot pot or steamboat refers to several varieties of stew in a metal pot prepared at the center of the dining table. It consists of a simmering broth or stock and many other ingredients cook right on top of the table. While the hot pot is simmering, typical hot pot dishes such as thinly sliced meat, leafy vegetables, mushrooms, wontons, egg, dumplings, noodles, seafood and various types of Chinese balls are placed into the pot and cooked through and then eaten with a dipping sauce.

This is among our favorite Chinese food and usual orders whenever we are dining in a Chinese seafood restaurant, either in the Philippines, here in Sri Lanka or elsewhere in Asia. On several occasions, we have also tried this at the comfort of our home using electric rice cooker and even conventional pot and single burner stove. This is quite easy to do and a constant hit to families and friends. This is worth doing whenever you have time especially during the rainy and cool season when piping hot soup is the preferred meal by everyone.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Mechado (Beef Stew in Tomato Sauce)

Like “caldereta” or “kaldereta”, “mechado” is a beef stew dish from the Philippines with obvious Spanish influences, from its name to the use of ingredients and to the slow stewing process. Although the current use of typical Filipino ingredients such as soy sauce and “calamansi” extracts in many of its variations is giving its distinct Filipino character, the key ingredients and texture of the dish remain a showcase of the rich Spanish cuisine’s characteristics.

The name “mechado” originates from the traditional use of Spanish culinary practice of threading strips of pork fatback through thick pieces of the lean beef to render them more tender and juicy. The strip of fatback which basically serves as a wick is called “mecha” in Spanish, hence the name “mechado” to the dish.

In its common form, the larded pieces of beef are then marinated in vinegar, soy sauce, “calamansi” extract, crushed garlic, black pepper and bay leaf, browned quickly on all sides in hot oil or lard and then slowly braised in its marinade with the addition of soup stock, onion slices and tomato sauce or fresh tomatoes until tender and the liquid is reduced to a thick flavorful gravy.

However, my own variation is more of the Spanish side; cooking it more like “beef caldereta” with no quick-frying of the meat and not involving the use of soy sauce and “calamansi” in the marinade. I also prefer beef cuts with some fat layers, ligaments and tendons if possible to avoid the use of pork fatback strips which my wife and kids do not particularly like in stew dishes.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Kutsinta or Cuchinta a la Lalaine (Filipino Brown Rice Cake)

This is a HIT! I kid you not. This is “kutsinta” or Filipino brown rice cake at its best. We are so lucky that a very good childhood and family friend, my younger sister’s classmate, is sharing this wonderful recipe which she developed and perfected over a rather long period of repeated preparations, for everyone reading this blog to enjoy. Amazingly, this traditional snack dish is quite easy to prepare………at least a lot easier than I thought. It also requires a few ordinary ingredients which most of you almost certainly have them already in your pantry except probably for two.

“Kutsinta” is a traditional snack food of the Philippines that belongs to the wide-ranging group of Filipino native delicacies called “kakanin”, a Filipino language which literally means snacks. “Turon” and “minatamis na saging” which I featured earlier are also considered as native “kakanin”. As most “kakanin” are, “kutsinta” is basically made from ground rice locally called “galapong” or in the modern world rice flour, and among the several variations of the highly regarded Filipino rice cakes where “puto” and “kutsinta” are the most prominent.

I believe that every Filipino has a childhood memory of this delicious food. This used to be among the widely served and eaten snacks in every Filipino home. While modernization and necessary contacts with the outside world have brought a new set of exciting snacks from all over the world such as hamburgers, pizzas, spaghetti, to name just a few, “kutsinta (and “puto”) has maintained an enduring niche in the market. It continues to serve loyal patrons which prefer the healthy and tasty traditional food over the proliferating trendy but calorie-laden snacks.

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