Thursday, July 30, 2009

Fooling Around at Bentota Beach Resort

Some friends from another construction firm implementing the other phase of our expressway project invited us over to play basketball and have small party afterwards. Sri Lanka is a cricket country as Philippines is a basketball country, so what you will find here is a lot of cricket courts and no basketball court. This makes basketball a thrilling event for us (basketball crazy generation) that we are willing to travel some 75 kilometers just to be able to play. Of course, the party afterwards is a welcome addition which we eagerly anticipated as well. :-)

On top of all, we were overly excited because their place is located in Bentota area where the known Bentota Beach Resort is situated. So we intentionally came early to enable checking the beach resort out prior to meeting our friends. True to what we heard and read, the resort is fantastic. Like Hikkaduwa and Unawatuna which I posted earlier, Bentota is also amongst the finest beaches of this country.

Especially for families, Bentota is a well sought after destination. Safe swimming conditions combined with fun water sport and exciting excursions are providing for the ideal background for a relaxed holiday. Being one of the most established beach resorts here, it is known for its professional touristic infrastructure. The many 5-star hotels are often built in picturesque locations and anyone can always drop in for a drink (even if he is not going to stay) to relax and enjoy the scenery.

With fun-loving Filipinos fooling around, the beautiful landscape can be instantly transformed into an even more awesome (or gruesome) sight, capable of drawing big smiles on our face and probably huge gapes from tourists. :-)

To replenish the lost energy frolicking, mocking and laughing, creating funny moments, it is but necessary that we fill our stomach. We all agreed to munch on something we seldom eat, PIZZA. Waves Restaurant located inside one of the fine hotels was just the right place. They have a huge oven specifically constructed for cooking pizza.

We ordered the house specialty jumbo prawn pizza, the popular ham & fresh pineapple pizza, some potato chips and soda drinks. We were lucky to have actually witnessed how the cook does their pizza to share with you, in addition to the pizza and sauce recipes I posted before.

Watching the skillful cook does his antics in making the pizzas drove us even hungrier. It is a good thing we just had to wait for a short 15 minutes to cook everything.

The pizza was good but not superb. They skimped on cheese and the sauce is somewhat ordinary. But the crust was thin & crispy just the way we like it and other toppings were tasty. We did enjoy though and regained energy to once more clown around and reserve some for the basketball later on.

After an afternoon full of laughter and fun, what could be better way to end the day than with a silhouette photo of the group? To act sentimental, pretend romantic and at the end have something to remind us of the silly moments, ridiculous actions, outrageous behavior and of course tighter camaraderie.

And as we were about to feel guilty that one of us will not be able to join the nostalgic image because he will be taking the shot, we realized we were wrong. Engineers are really adept at solving problems. c“,)

UnggoyGwapo fools.............I mean rules!!!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Pansit Palabok (Rice Noodles In Savoury Sauce)

Cravings for “Pansit Palabok” suddenly strike us and due to unrelenting request from friends I decided to haphazardly prepare one. I have most of the ingredients including “chicharon” (pork skin cracklings) from the Philippines, pork head meat, shrimps and thin rice noodles. Though I don’t have “tinapa” (smoked fish) which they don’t sell here in Sri Lanka, I believe what I have in hand would suffice to create a modest “palabok” dish that could somehow ease the cravings.

“Pansit Palabok” also called “Pansit Luglug” is a savoury noodle dish very popular in Tarlac and Pampanga (Philippines). I believe the original name is “pansit luglug”, “luglug” being the “Capampangan” word for the method of cooking the thin noodles of soaking in boiling water for several minutes until al dente then placed in a platter and topped with the sauce and the various toppings. I heard that in Pampanga, it is originally eaten with thin slices of “kamias” (cucumber tree) instead of the now widely used calamansi juice. When “pansit luglug” clashed with the Tagalog version called “pansit palabok” which is quite similar but using thicker noodles, the two names became synonymous in Tarlac and Pampanga areas.

Since I learnt to eat the dish in Tarlac, I am biased over the “pansit luglug/palabok” which uses thin rice noodles (“bihon”) as they normally used there. In re-creating the dish therefore, that’s exactly what I have in mind. This is an impromptu cooking so I have not considered it for posting in this blog. I did not even bother to take photos of the process to document it. However, the finished dish is so pretty that I finally decided to take a few shots. The taste turned out amazing and everybody enjoyed as the craving is satisfied. Yes, I ended up regretting I have not used the camera right from the start. Honestly, I never expected it will turn out so good worthy of posting.

The ingredients I used are 1 kl thin rice noodles (the same type used in making “Pansit Bihon”), washed, ½ kl pork head, ¼ kl shrimps, 2 pcs boiled eggs, 1 small onion, quartered, 1 laurel leaf, 1 small carrot quartered, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp ground pepper, ¼ kl minced beef, 1 whole garlic, minced, 3 tbsp vegetables oil, 1 pack “atsuete” (annatto) seeds, 1 large onion, minced, another tsp ground pepper, ¼ cup fish sauce (“patis”), 2 large eggs, 3 tbsp corn starch.

In about 5 cups of water, boil the pork with the quartered onion, laurel leaf, small carrot, salt & ground pepper and simmers on low heat until tender. Scoop out the scum that will float on the surface during the initial boiling stage. Remove the fork-tender pork, slice into thin strips and set aside.
Drop the shrimps into the boiling broth and let it cook just right. Take out when done, separate the head, shell the body and set aside. Strain the broth and set aside as well. Pound the shrimp head and extract its juice using half a cup of the broth. Set aside.

In a large heavy pan heat the oil and fry the garlic until golden crispy. Strain the garlic and set aside. In the same oil add the “atsuete” and stir until it renders the colour. Using small strainer collect the “atsuete” seed and dip the strainer into the broth to get the entire colour then discard the seed.

In the pan with “atsuete” oil, sauté minced onion on medium heat, add the minced beef and continue sautéing. Season with ground pepper. When sizzling, return the strained broth and the shrimp juice. Let the sauce simmer.

Meanwhile slightly beat the eggs, add the corn starch and stir to dissolve. Then add the fish sauce and continue mixing. Add the mixture to the simmering sauce to thicken. Continue stirring until the sauce is of gravy-like consistency. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

In a large casserole with boiling water, soak the washed rice noodles (“bihon”) until al dente, avoid getting it soggy. Place in a large platter and slather with the sauce then top with crumpled “chicharon”, pork strips, boiled egg slices, shrimps, minced green onions, fried garlic and serve with calamansi wedges and some more fish sauce on the side.

Isn’t that gorgeous? Well, it’s pretty delicious too. c“,) Enjoy, we did. :-)

Monday, July 27, 2009

Steamed “Alimasag” (Sea Crab)

One advantage of living in a tropical island like the Philippines and Sri Lanka, as far as culinary adventure is concerned, is the abundance of seafood. The availability of many choices of fish, shrimps, lobsters, crab and other fresh sea harvests provide varieties of cookery one can experiment with. And of course the same goes to eating. Engaging in a seafood outing is something a foreign visitor should not miss when in countries like the two. It is a fabulous deal which can satisfy even the most discriminating palate and will provide an eating experience one will always remember.

“Alimasag” or sea crab is one of the much-sought-after harvests from the sea. This decapods crustacean is relatively easy to prepare and yet provides a very tasty meal that can impress visitors even for beginners in cooking. The secret is in the crab itself. Just like “Alimango” (mud crab), the meat of “Alimasag” is already delicious in itself. It does not even require a salt to bring out the taste.

Just like typical Filipinos, me and my friends like “Alimasag” a lot. Whenever we go to a fresh market, it is on the top list of things to buy. We are lucky that here in Sri Lanka, it is quite cheap, allowing us to enjoy it more often. While we have prepared “Alimasag” in many different ways, the simplest, easiest and most inexpensive steamed method is still the most requested way of doing it. It’s probably because people want to retain the untainted taste and flavour of its meat, which is succulent and sumptuous right from its original package.

For a hungry group of 6, we decided to purchase about a dozen medium sized “Alimasag” weighing a little less than 3 kilograms. It should be thoroughly cleaned and drained.

The few select ingredients which will further enhance the already excellent taste of the crab are about 2 tbsp garlic, crushed, 1/2 tsp ground pepper (optional), ½ cup sprite or seven up and about 3 tbsp vinegar. For the dipping sauce we will need some calamansi or lemon juice and 2 tbsp butter. If you are contemplating on other dipping sauce, you are at liberty to do so.

Arrange half of the crabs in a large pot. Sprinkle half of the crushed garlic and ground pepper on top. Mix sprite and vinegar and pour half over the crabs. Add the rest of the crabs and the remaining garlic, ground pepper and sprite-vinegar mixture.

Let the liquid boil and continue steaming tightly covered on medium-low heat until crabs turn bright orange, about 20 or 30 minutes.

Crabs like shrimps pack a lot of water in their bodies which will come out during the steaming process. This is the reason why for me, the small amount of liquid ingredients is enough to fully cook the crab and at the same time avoid getting a large amount of residual liquid which could take much of the flavour.

When it’s done (just a small amount of liquid remains), transfer if to a large plate and serve. Steamed “Alimasag” goes very well with steamed rice or if you like, eat it with your favourite drinks.

Melt the butter and mix the calamansi (or lemon) juice for a wonderful dipping sauce. If you prefer, calamansi + soy sauce + chilli, then go for it. Just calamansi juice + sea salt is also good. Some of our members like to dip it with seasoned vinegar and crushed garlic. Whatever it is, just enjoy. :-)

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Fruits In Season

One Sunday morning on our way to Galle City, we passed by a make-shift street market selling fresh harvests from backyard gardens and farms of the local residents. The produce includes several types of fruits and a lot of vegetables. We pulled over to check around to see what would stir our interest and hopefully the appetite. We were fascinated by the available fruits that are in season and end up with a basket full of several kinds which are all very reasonably priced (a.k.a. cheap).

Our fruit basket included about 2 dozens of fantastic mangosteen. A big slice of jackfruit, some avocado, a medium sized of “guyabano” (soursop), some “santol” (wild mangosteen) and several pieces of “dayap” (lime). I mentioned above that the price is cheap. That is so true, the mangosteen for example was purchased at, hold your breath, roughly 4 pesos (Philippine) or about 8.3 cents (US$) each. Do you think it’s a good deal? Wait till I tell you that the slice of jackfruit is only 8 pesos (Philippine) or about 16.6 cents (US$). And the one shown on the photo below is only half of the slice. :-)

Everyone should eat a lot of fruits to stay healthy. Fruit is a good source of natural fibres which helps against corpulence, high blood pressure, and other factors that increase the chance for a heart disease. Unlike animal products, fruit does not contain much cholesterol which is not good for our bodies. Fruit is the ultimate brain fuel. Eating fruits has a positive effect on our brains and makes you recall information easier and faster.

The term fruit has different meanings dependent on context and is not synonymous in food preparation and biology. Many true fruits, in a botanical sense, are treated as vegetables in cooking and food preparation because they are not sweet. These culinary vegetables include cucurbits (e.g., squash, pumpkin, and cucumber), tomatoes, peas, beans, corn, eggplant, and sweet pepper. Some spices, such as allspice and chillies, are botanical fruits. In the culinary sense, a fruit is usually any sweet tasting plant product associated with seed(s) while a vegetable is any savoury or less sweet plant product.

While we are about to indulge into the sweetness of these wonderful harvest, our security guard knocked and gave us another interesting addition to our basket. Some pretty little wild guavas which he picked from a hidden tree somewhere in our own backyard.

We were amazed by the colour and size of the guavas. The red shade on the skin makes the fruits very appealing. Though they are so small that some are barely bigger than marbles, they tasted good and as we all know they are full of Vitamin C. c“,)

Friday, July 24, 2009

Filipino Beef Asado

It is quite startling to discover that there are so many diverse ways to cook the Filipino Asado. Inspite of the general description of the dish being cooked in a sweet tomato-based stew that is usually accompanied by potatoes, carrots and other vegetables, one will find many recipes that don’t involve tomato or tomato sauce and vegetables at all. Even in cuts and preparation variations are evident making it difficult to distinguish which one characterize the true Filipino Asado.

The Asado that I like is the type used as filling in “siopao”, the Philippine version of baozi, and the taste of the meat should be more like that of the Chinese asado or dried red-colored sweetmeats usually served with thick asado sauce in a Chinese restaurant.

It is likewise important to note that Filipino Asado is very different and should not be confused with the Asado that is popular in South America, and is the traditional dish of Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Chile. Their Asado is actually cooking cuts of meat, typically consisting of beef alongside various other meats, on a grill or open fire. The meat is not marinated, the only preparation being the application of salt before and/or during the slow-cooking period which usually takes around 2 hours.

To cook my version of Filipino Beef Asado, we shall need about 1 ½ kilogram of beef, cut to around 1 x 1 inch sizes.

The dry ingredients are 2 tbsp garlic, crushed, 2 pcs bay leaves, 1 tbsp whole peppercorn, cracked, 2 pcs star anise and 2 sticks cinnamon.

The wet ingredients are 1 cup broth, ¼ cup red wine, ¼ cup soy sauce, 1 tbsp rice vinegar and 2 tbsp vegetable oil which I mixed all together in a bowl except the oil. There will be some more ingredients to finalize the sauce later.

In a heavy pan, heat the vegetable oil and sear the sides of the meat in batches. Add some more oil if needed during the latter batches and continue searing all the meat. Set aside.

In the same pan place the dry ingredients on the bottom. Put the seared meat on top of the ingredients and pour the wet ingredients. Let it boil then lower the heat and simmer until the meat is tender. Add hot water 1 cup at a time if the liquid is drying up.

Separate the fork-tender meat from the sauce. Strain the sauce and discard the remnants of the dried ingredients. Scoop out oil that will float on the surface of the sauce. Return the sauce (should be about 1 ½ cups to 2 cups) in the pan and heat again. On the boiling sauce add about 2 tbsp brown sugar, 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce and 1 tbsp soy sauce. Taste and adjust salt and pepper to your sweet-salty preference. Add 1 tbsp corn starch dispersed in 2 tbsp water to thicken the sauce.

Return the meat to the sauce and let it boil again on low heat. Slightly stir to fully coat the meat with the sauce. Finish it off with the addition of about 1 tsp of sesame oil.
Transfer to a large platter and serve. There it is, my version of this dish. Enjoy. c“,)
Leftover can be used as filling for “siopao” and asado bun or topping in a beef noodle soup (“mami”). But in our group, leftover just don’t exist. :-)


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