Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Bagis Recipe (Minced Beef in Lemon Juice)

In the central and northern Luzon (Philippines) area, they have this very simple dish made from minced beef or carabeef (meat form Philippine water buffalo called Carabao) and some calamondin (calamansi) or lemon juice that is very tasty and really appetizing. It is called “Bagis”. Aside from the fact that it requires very few ingredients, it is can be cooked very quickly. Thus, perfect for the busy lifestyle in the city or for working mothers who have limited time preparing the meals.

For the impromptu gathering we recently had, I prepared and served the dish alongside with another quick but delicious course - Steamed “Alimasag”. Our group, composed of 5 very hungry Filipinos and 1 hungry Sri Lankan, easily consumed the whole huge serving with lot of steamed rice. Yes, the dish goes well with steamed rice. Ok, make that "very well". It is also a much loved “pulutan” (appetizer/bites) over a bottle of favorite drinks. For those who wants an extra kick, a few more chili will do the trick.

The main ingredients are, of course, minced beef and calamondin or calamansi (when in the Philippines) or lemon juice. For about half a kilo of minced beef, I used about 3 tbsp of lemon juice.

The other ingredients are, 2 large onions, chopped (I added several tiny whole onions for garnish, but you can take this out), 2 pcs chili peppers, sliced (you can use bird’s eye chili for a more spicy dish), 1 tbsp minced green onion or shallots and 1 tsp salt or to taste.

Marinate the beef with the calamondin or lemon juice for an hour. Some of my friends said overnight marinating is better but I have not tried that.

Then simply put everything (except the green onion or shallots) in a thick pan or wok and cook on medium heat. Minced meat has secret liquid which it will render out during the cooking process. This means you don’t have to add water at all. When the liquid boils, set the heat on low and continue simmering, stirring once in awhile. Adjust the saltiness according to your preference and wait until the liquid is reduced and the meat starts to sizzle in its own fat. My meat is very lean so I have to add a tablespoon of vegetable oil to have the sizzling effect but you might not need it at all.

It’s done. I told you its very simple and quick. Transfer to a serving platter and sprinkle the green onion on top. Enjoy with your family or friends.

Although it is already good as it is, I want to make further improvement to the recipe and redo it some other time. I have also tasted one version with small amount of liquid that remains making it more kid friendly. Obviously, there are a lot more things to consider next time. c“,)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Sinigang na Tuna (Tuna Stew in Tamarind)

When it comes to soupy dishes, “sinigang” (generic term for Filipino stew in many souring agent) is probably one of the most popular Filipino dishes. It can be applied to almost all meat and seafood. I even have workers before who use canned mackerel in their sinigang when fresh fish is not around. Like “linaga”, another common Filipino meat stew with vegetables, “sinigang” is probably widely accepted because it is easy to cook and could be served to big groups even by only using a relatively small quantity of the meat or fish. With the addition of many vegetables, one entrée could easily satisfy one family.

While “sinigang” is a favorite by most Filipinos, I am not totally impressed by it. I can actually live without it. Yes I’m not a fan, particularly the meat “sinigang”, which I usually avoid ordering in restaurant or eateries unless my companion likes it. Fish or seafood “sinigang” is a bit better for me, though still, I’m not so into it. But since most members of our group particularly like it, so I can’t really avoid having it once in a while. After all, for Filipino expats, “sinigang mix” is among the most common products one bring from holiday or vacations from the Philippines.

The traditional way that many consider as the secret to tasty sinigang is to cook it using rice washing. For as long as you are sure that the rice is not exposed to dust and smoke from pollution contaminants, you can also use rice washing, preferably the second wash.

So that I can somehow enjoy the “sinigang”, even a bit :-), I will use the gorgeous tuna we bought from the roaming store frequenting our area. This is a 1 kilo prime cut tuna perfect for “sinigang”. But I only used about 600 grams of the flesh which I cut into bite sizes and seasoned with 1 tsp salt. I reserved part of the prime meat for another dish, hopefully “kinilaw”, a Filipino ceviche type of dish.

The other ingredients are as follows: about 8 cups of rice washing, 2 medium onion, chopped, 4 pcs plum tomatoes, quartered, 5 pcs taro roots (“gabi”), peeled and sliced, 1 tsp salt or to taste, 4 pcs whole green chili, 2 bunches bok choy (“pechay”), washed and halve, and of course, 1 sachet sinigang mix in tamarind. This little packet of goodness makes cooking “sinigang” a lot easier for Filipinos. :)

You can use many other types of vegetable like “kangkong” (swamp cabbage or water spinach), radishes, okra, egg plant, green mustard, etc. I only limited mine for personal preference.

This is a stew type of cooking so use a heavy casserole. Fill it with about 8 cups of rice washing (you can use water if you prefer). On high heat let it boil. Add in the onion and tomato and simmer on medium heat. Once the tomato is a little mushy, add the taro roots and continue simmering.

Once the taro is tender slowly add the fish and continue cooking. Once the liquid is again boiling add the chili pepper and the salt. Once the fish is thoroughly cook, add in your sinigang mix and taste to adjust the saltiness according to your liking.

Once you are already happy with the taste and hungry with the smell, add your bok choy (“petchay”), cover and cook for another minute.

Transfer in a large serving bowl, prepare your steamed rice and serve alongside. Some fish sauce with chili dip will surely add the kick. Make sure you have a lot of rice. You will need it, I’m sure.

There it is, “sinigang na tuna”. Sourly delicious, just the way I can eat it. It’s quite good though. c“,)

Monday, September 28, 2009

Fried Tokwa (Fried Soybean Curd)

“Tokwa” is the Philippine term for tofu. A soft cheese-like food made from soybeans and produced by curdling soya milk with a coagulant or curdling agent. The curds are then pressed into a solid block. While tofu is a bland tasting product on its own, it has the natural ability to easily absorbs the flavors of other ingredients such as from spices and marinades. In recipes, it acts like a sponge and will easily soak up any flavor that is added into it. So its taste is generally dependent on the combined taste of all the other ingredients. The rule is: if you can make a tasty sauce or soup, then you can make a tasty tofu dish.

Often used as a meat substitute in vegetarian dishes, tofu is rich in high-quality protein and calcium. It is a good source of soy protein and isoflavones, both of which confer promising health benefits. It is also a good source of B-vitamins and iron. While 50 percent of the calories in tofu come from fat, a 4-ounce serving of tofu contains just 6 grams of fat. Thus, it is low in saturated fat and contains no cholesterol. Tofu is also very low in sodium, making it a perfect food for people on sodium-restricted diets.

It is an exceptional food, not only because it is highly nutritious but because it can be prepared in such a remarkably wide variety of ways. It is a dietary staple of Asian cuisines for hundreds of years and has recently become popular in Western vegetarian cooking. It became so popular, that it is celebrated with its own annual festival and has almost become synonymous with vegetarianism itself.

In the Philippines, it is so popular when prepared as “Tokwa at Baboy” (Pork and Tofu) with its tasty “vinegar+soy sauce+sugar” sauce. It is eaten as a snack on its own or perfect accompaniment with other popular Filipino dishes such as “Goto” or “Lumpia” (Vegetable Spring Roll). For this post, I decided to prepare only the “tokwa” (without the pork) intended as a snack and appetizer for our group on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

The main ingredients of course is the wonderful tofu, about 2 blocks. Sliced it into smaller blocks of about ¾ inch thick and fried in hot oil until crispty on the outside.

The other ingredients are about 3/4 cup of white vinegar, any other type of vinegar is alright, about 2 tbsp of soy sauce, about 4 tbsp of brown sugar, 1 tbsp of minced onion, 1 pc chili pepper, minced (optional) and 1 tbsp of finely minced celery.

Combine the liquid ingredients and let it boil on low heat in a small sauce pan. Stir thoroughly when it boils and add in the sugar. Continue simmering until the sugar is totally dissolved, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and let to slightly cool. Add the other ingredients and stir once again. As mentioned above, this will be the basis of the final taste of the dish therefore it is very important that you get the right sweet, sour and salty taste. You can adjust it according to your preference. You will have this sweet-sourly-slightly salty sauce:

Cut the fried tofu into bite sizes. A quick sudden chop of a sharp knife is all you need to manage the crispy edges of the fried tofu. Arrange the chopped tofu in a bowl and pour some of the sauce. Do this in batches to avoid over crowding the tofu which might result to soggy texture. The combination of the crispy edge and soft delicate curd inside makes this dish distinctly delicious.

Simple and easy, but really good. There are so many other ways to enjoy this healthy food. Its uses are limitless and possibilities are endless. Enjoy! c“,)

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Three Sausages Pasta

Many discoveries are out of necessities. Sometimes the condition seems so ideal that everything appears to be in the right place at the right time. All you need is some ingenuity, perhaps inspiration or even just the will to try, to do new things using your instinct, to satisfy your need. And voila! Even you will be amazed by what you can create………what you can achieve.

I have many different types of excess sausages in our freezer: Bockwurst, chicken sausage and several kinds of hotdogs. They have been sitting there for quite sometime waiting for the moment to be eaten. Then came the time when we want to eat a pasta dish. I don’t have minced beef to make Bolognese or bacon to prepare Carbonara. I could have resorted to simple Alfredo but we want something more elaborate……...more than just butter. And I thought sausage pasta would be great. After all, I have a really nice macaroni in the cupboard which could be the perfect match to the sausages in the freezer.

So I brought the macaroni out, three types of sausages and some other ingredients I thought would help bring out the best in my sausage pasta dish and started working the kitchen.

Of course the main ingredients are: 400 grams macaroni pasta to be cooked al dente following the manufacturer’s instruction and three types of sausages – bockwurst, chicken sausage and some hotdogs, sliced diagonally and then quickly stir fried in small amount of oil, about 4 cups all in all.

The macaroni is cooked in briskly boiling water with 1tbsp salt and 1 tbsp vegetable oil for about 11 minutes as directed in the package.

In addition, I also take out about 8 pcs fresh tomatoes, slightly boiled them in water, peeled and chopped to make this gorgeous plateful of goodness.

The other ingredients are as follows: 1 tbsp olive oil, 2 tbsp butter, 6 gloves garlic, peeled and minced, 2 large onions, chopped, 1 pc green bell pepper, minced, 2 pcs mild chili pepper, minced, 1 pc bay leaf, 1 tsp salt or to taste, 1 tsp ground pepper, 2 cups sweet style tomato sauce or spaghetti sauce, ½ cup fresh milk, about 1 cup pasta water, ½ cup grated cheddar cheese and 1 tbsp fresh celery or coriander, finely chopped.

In a heavy pan or wok, heat the olive oil and butter, sauté garlic followed by onion until translucent. Add in the bell pepper, mild chili pepper, bay leaf and continue sautéing for about a minute. Add salt and pepper, then the slightly fried sausages. Stir everything to blend and continue cooking. Add the tomato sauce or spaghetti sauce and simmer on low heat.

Add the fresh milk and some pasta water to adjust the sauce to right consistency. Add the grated cheese and continue simmering for another minute. For the meantime take the now cooked macaroni, drain and swirl in 1 tbsp of butter until evenly distributed. Mix this to the sauce and continue cooking. Add the coriander and stir for a minute more. You might want to take out the bay leaf at this point.

Voila, three sausages pasta. Transfer in a large platter and top with some more grated cheese and chopped coriander. Serve and enjoy. :-)

This is delicious! True! c",)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Flowers of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka maybe considered as a relatively tiny island but it possesses a high level of biodiversity. In fact, it has been identified by the environment activist group Conservation International (CI) as one of 25 biodiversity hot spots in the world. It has a remarkable high proportion of endemic species among its flora and fauna with 23% of its flowering plants and 16% of its mammals being endemic in the island. The special features of its biodiversity are mainly due to its wide range of topographic and climatic variations.

The year-round hot and humid climate of southwestern Sri Lanka makes the ideal climate for many varieties of orchids and other flowering plants or angiosperms (Angiospermae or Magnoliophyta), while the dry and cool climates of the central highlands are perfect for the many other varieties of colorful flowers that thrive in such climate. So the whole island is a source of magnificent sights of many beautiful flowers that come in different sizes, shapes and colors.

During our visit to one of Sri Lanka’s most popular cities in the high country, Nuwera Eliya, we were immediately captivated by the natural splendor of the many flowering plants in all of its parks. No visitors could resist such an inviting grandeur of vibrant flowers and everyone will end up taking photographs to somehow preserve the beauty even in digital images. Maybe it’s a human thing; that we always want to immortalize such wonderful sights which brings joy and elation to our hearts.

For you to somehow enjoy the sceneries that captured our deepest emotions, this photo tour is specially provided. Be delighted!

Flowers... are a proud assertion that a ray of beauty outvalues all the utilities of the world. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Flowers seem intended for the solace of ordinary humanity. ~ John Ruskin

If you've never been thrilled to the very edges of your soul by a flower in spring bloom, maybe your soul has never been in bloom. ~ Audra Foveo

Bread feeds the body, indeed, but flowers feed also the soul. ~ The Koran

Need I say more? c“,)


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