Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Pancakes with Sweetened Banana (Hotcakes)

Pancakes are thin, flat cakes prepared from a batter and cooked on a hot griddle or frying pan. Most pancakes are cooked one side and flipped partway through to cook the other side. Depending on the region, pancakes may be served at any time, with a variety of toppings or fillings from jam, fruit, syrup or even meat.

English pancakes have plain flour, eggs, and milk as three key ingredients. The batter is runny and forms a thin layer on the bottom of the frying pan when the pan is tilted. It may form some bubbles during cooking but the pancake does not rise. They may be eaten as a sweet dessert with the traditional topping of lemon juice and sugar, drizzled with golden syrup, or wrapped around savory stuffing and eaten as a main course.

On the other hand, American or Canadian pancakes (hotcakes, griddlecakes or flapjacks) are pancakes which contain a raising agent such as baking powder; proportions of eggs, flour, and milk or buttermilk create a thick batter. Sugar and spices such as cinnamon, vanilla and nutmeg are added. This batter is ladled or poured onto a hot surface, and spreads to form a circle. The raising agent causes bubbles to rise to the uncooked side, when the pancake is flipped. These light pancakes are served at breakfast topped with syrup, butter, peanut butter, jelly, jam, fruit or honey. It can be made sweet or savory by adding ingredients such as blueberries, strawberries, cheese, bacon, bananas, apples or chocolate chips to the batter.

In the Philippines, pancakes or "hotcakes" as they commonly called are also served with maple or corn syrup, margarine and sugar or condensed milk. They are usually served for breakfast, but there are roving street stalls that sell smaller hotcakes topped with margarine and sugar as an afternoon snack. I have a childhood memory of this delicious food which I used to eat in our school’s roadside eateries. I like it very much that I always look forward to school recess just to be able to eat it. :-)

Most families and kids for that matter, now have easy access to this food as it is readily available in instant packages which can be bought from groceries and supermarkets. All you have to do is mix the content with water and presto you have the batter. My son is among those who enjoy this instant food. For me though, the one prepared from scratch is still the best and probably the safest as far as ones health is concerned.

To prepare a pancake, we need the following ingredients: 2 cups all-purpose flour (I used wheat flour which the one common here in Sri Lanka), ¼ cup white fine sugar, 2¼ tsp Baking powder, ½ tsp baking soda, 2 cups buttermilk, 2 large fresh eggs, ¼ cup melted butter and ½ tsp salt. Sorry, I forgot to take photos. :)

If you only have milk and not buttermilk, as is always my case, you have two options: 1. Either to just use the fresh milk and be satisfied by with good pancake or 2. Be more creative and turn the fresh milk into buttermilk and have a better pancake. If you choose the latter, go and start your research on how to turn milk into buttermilk. Just kidding :-), here is how I do it. With the 2 cups of fresh milk in a non-reactive bowl, just add 2 tbsp white vinegar and wait for several minutes……..until curdles form…….it will happen……….science tells us it will………..and presto, buttermilk in no time.

Basically you just have to mix everything to form into batter. In a mixing bowl sift the flour together with baking powder and baking soda. In another bowl mix the sugar, salt and melted butter. Add the eggs one by one while continuously stirring. Add the flour mixture and stir further you attain a well mixed batter. Remember, I said well mixed, not over-mixed. :) You want your pancakes to be light and airy, right?

Prepare the griddle or just the over-used but still very effective (a.k.a. highly seasoned and non-sticking) frying pan. Heat it on low flame and add a small amount of butter or margarine. Pour about half a cup of the batter and cook the first side. Flip partway through to cook the other side. Transfer to a plate and continue with the next pancake.

Continue cooking until you have stacks of golden hotcakes in the plate. The rhythm of doing it will be developed as you go on with the same repetitious task of cooking over and over again………until you run out of batter. c“,)

Top the pancakes with whatever toppings you fancied about. As discussed above, there are a lot of toppings to choose from. Possibilities are endless. For me though, I intend to top this with sweetened bananas which I have cooked earlier following the recipe in this previous post. This time however, I cut up the bananas to smaller sizes to fit as toppings. Drizzle the banana hotcakes with maple syrup and be prepared to drool.

Serve in individual plates. Enjoy! I am not so much into sweets, but yes, this is sumptuous. My son will envy me for this……….his favorite. c“,)

Monday, October 26, 2009

Pork Afritada in Fresh Tomatoes (Sarsiado)

During every major occasion of our family or our clan to be more specific, one of the regular entrées which is highly loved by every family members and guests is the Filipino pork “afritada” or pork stew in tomato sauce with bell pepper, green peas and potatoes. It is among the special dishes serve in every home in the Southern Luzon (Philippines) areas during town fiestas (festivals), special family occasions (weddings, baptisms, birthdays, etc.) and important gatherings (reunions, Christmas, Holy Week Celebrations, etc.). I’m proud to say that our clan’s “afritada”, as it is simply referred to, is so delicious and fit for such special occasions. The rich sauce and distinct taste are sure to delight everyone during the meal.

Whilst “afritada” is not that difficult to prepare, I don’t know why it has never become a regular meal in our family. By regular, I mean to cook it at least once a week as part of the daily meal. It is always reserve for that occasion or affair that is considered special or extraordinary. For the daily course however, we had the type cooked in fresh tomatoes. Sort of like “afritada” as well (if using boneless meat, as meat with ribs is also use for the dish), only less elaborate and using fewer and simpler ingredients.

For whatever reason it is called “sarsiado” in Batangas (Philippines) but quite different and not to be confused with the common “sarciado” dishes which are cook with beaten eggs and tomatoes. Even more strangely, my wife colloquially call it “kinamatisan” (meaning "with tomato") with the pork being cooked in fresh tomatoes although not soupy as oppose to most “kinamatisan” dishes in the Philippines.

To cook the dish, we need 1 kilo of really nice pork. The “kasim” or shoulder part is the best but pork belly or “liempo” is also good. As for me, all I have is mix part from cube pork cut which is always available in Sri Lankan supermarkets. Cut up the meat to small pieces - “afritada” cut. Ok, that’s about 1 inch square and about ¼ inch thick, then washed and drained thoroughly.

Since this is to be stewed in fresh tomatoes, we need about 4 pieces large very fresh ripe tomatoes, washed and roughly chopped. Remember, 4 pieces only. I sometimes get carried away by the gorgeous tomatoes and end up putting more and the resulting dish gets a little overly sour. You don’t want that, trust me. :-)

The other ingredients are as follows: 2 tbsp vegetable oil (you might not need it actually), 4 gloves garlic, peeled and minced, 1 onion, peeled and chopped, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp ground pepper, 1 pc green bell pepper (red should have been better, but I don’t have one), julienned, 1 tbsp soy sauce, 2 tbsp tomato sauce (optional), 2 pcs potato, peeled, halve and cut into ¼ inch thick and 1 small can cooked green peas which I don’t have right now. You will also need about 2 cups of good broth or just water.

Heat a large thick pan (oil is not necessary), put all the meat and cover. Let the meat renders some of its own liquid and fat. Give it a gentle mix and continue simmering on medium heat until the liquid is reduced and it starts to sizzle in its own fat releasing a very aromatic smell. Lightly fry the meat to slightly sear all sides. Remove the meat from the pan and set aside.

In the same pan with all the pork bits goodness, heat the oil (if there is enough fat from the meat, you don’t need the oil anymore). Sauté the garlic followed by the onion and then add the tomatoes when the onion is translucent. Continue cooking until the tomatoes are mushy. Return the meat back and add half of the broth. Once boiling, add the soy sauce, tomato sauce (if using) and ground pepper. Simmer on low heat until the meat is pork tender.

Add the remaining ingredients - bell pepper, potatoes and green peas (if using), the remaining broth and adjust the saltiness accordingly to your preference. Continue cooking until the potato is tender and rich sauce is just enough to cover. Transfer in a large bowl and serve.

The dish goes well with steaming rice. Serve it that way and you are assured of a wonderful meal. My kids love this and so am I. c“,)

If you are a little tired of pork “abodo” or “humba”, this is a good alternative. Enjoy!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Basic Pizza Dough & Crust Recipe

I somehow promised in my Chicken Sausage Pizza and Chunky Pizza Sauce posts that I will feature the preparation of pizza crust or pizza shell some time later. I know how fulfilling it is to create a pizza from scratch. Using the commercially prepared pizza crust from the frozen section of groceries and supermarkets simply does not ring a bell for me. Cold yes, but uncool I should say. Aside from the fact that it is relatively thicker; it always tastes like ordinary bread.

Last night, I finally had the chance to do it. Anticipating the visit of a friend who used to work in our firm here, I decided to prepare pizza crust just in case I might need to do some pizza sometime today or tomorrow. Being ready with such an easy and yet much-sought after snack food will probably lessen the stress on entertaining the guest.

I used the basic pizza dough recipe for this post. Whilst I have a more special recipe for crust, I am reserving it for future posts when we are to make really extra special pizzas. Though this recipe is fairly basic, don’t think it is inferior or something for it will still result to really delicious pizzas. I have used this recipe many times and it never failed to impress visitors and guests alike. Of course the toppings, sauce and cheeses also make the difference, but an amazing pizza always starts with a good crust.

The few ingredients we need are: 41/4 cups + 2 tbsp All-purpose flour (wheat four is the common flour here in our place so I’ll be using it), 1 ½ cups lukewarm water, 1 tbsp white sugar, 1 tbsp or 1 pack dry yeast, 2 tbsp olive or salad oil (I used vegetable oil :-) ) and 2 tsp salt. Yes, that’s all.

Sift the all-purpose flour and salt in a wide mixing bowl. Add the oil and mix the ingredients.

In a small mixing bowl, pour the lukewarm water then add the sugar and dry yeast. Without mixing, let it stand for about 10~15 minutes or until the yeast is bubbly.

Pour the yeast mixture into the bowl of flour mixture. Mix thoroughly until it starts to form into a ball. Transfer the dough ball on a clean table and knead (folding and pushing) for about 10 minutes or until the dough is smooth and elastic. Use the 2 tbsp of flour to work it when it gets too sticky.

Grease a deep pot. Likewise, slightly coat the dough ball with oil to prevent the surface from cracking when it rises. Place the dough inside the pot and cover with damped cloth. Let it proof for 1½~2 hours, until it doubles its size.

For better result, punch the dough in the center to release the air and let it rise again for 30 minutes. After which, knead it again and divide into 4 smaller balls. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 340 ˚F or 175 ˚C.

Place one small piece of the dough in a floured surface and roll into thin crust of around 14 inches diameter. Carefully transfer in a perforated pizza pan. This is not easy to do if you are after a perfect circle pizza crust with uniform thickness. I can do it now, but through constant practice and after gaining 5 kilos due to over eating pizzas. Just kidding! :-)

Bake in the center of the oven for 8 minutes. Remember: 8 minutes only. Allow to slightly cool and then transfer in a rack to cool completely. Do the same for the next 3 pizza shells.

At this point I usually put them in a large plastic bag and carefully stock inside the freezer. I just take what I intend to use at least 5 minutes before cooking time to properly thaw it. c “,)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Banana Cake, Brings Back Memories

Banana is very significant to me. I spent the latter part of my childhood, the whole of my teen years, the whole of my college days and even early part of my post graduation years, surrounded by bananas. I kid you not. I can practically say I grew up with bananas, not just eating them but also feeding us. Well, trading banana has been our family’s bread and butter for quite a long time. And to tell you the truth, my studies were supported by my parents with their banana business. Isn’t that sweet? Probably sweeter than the ripe banana itself.

Though my parents have retired from the business long time ago, some of our relatives are still engage in the trade; retailing and selling the all year round fruit of the Philippines. The above is the reason why banana is very important to me, to all of us in the family actually. Even now that I’m here in Sri Lanka, happy memories of our banana flash in my mind from time to time. And I make sure I regularly buy bundles of banana from local harvesters. I enjoy eating it after meal or cook (some varieties) to a more special dessert dish like the “Minatamis na Saging” (Sweetened Banana) which I posted before.

Sometimes, I buy bananas more than our group can consume. This results to some very ripe bananas on our table. Ok, I often times, intentionally over buy bananas. Why? Well, very ripe and soft bananas are just perfect for making another favorite comfort food – Banana Cake. Yes, nothing should go to waste when it comes to wonderful fruits like bananas. You can always bake dessert for your love ones. :-)

If you tried my Chocolate Cake post, this will be really easy and simple. To prepare the cake, we need 2 cups AP flour, 1½ cups white sugar, ½ tsp baking powder, ¼ tsp baking soda, 1 cup unsalted butter (or good margarine), 3 tbsp canola oil (I used vegetable oil), 6 large eggs, 2~3 cups mashed ripe bananas, 1 cup raisin (optional) and 1 tsp icing sugar.

First, preheat the oven to 350 ˚ (180 ˚C). Apply a thin coating of butter on the inside surface of the pan. Sprinkle with flour and remove whatever excess flour from the pan. Alternatively, you can just use parchment paper as I usually do, that way; you just have to butter and flour the sides.

In a mixing bowl, sift the all-purpose flour with the baking powder and baking soda.

In another bowl, whisk the eggs with the butter, oil, sugar and mashed bananas. Stir the banana mixture into the dry ingredients and blend thoroughly. The batter seems very thick at this point so I added another egg, making 7 eggs all in all. Add the raisins, if you are using, and mix lightly. I have raisins but opted not to put it. Ok, ok, I forgot! :-)

Scrape the batter into the ready pan and bake in the centre of the oven for about 40~45 minutes or until golden and a toothpick poked in the centre of the cake comes out clean. You can also smell a wonderful aroma when it’s done.

Transfer the pan to a rack and let the cake cool for around 10~15 minutes. Then turn cake onto rack and let it cool completely. Sprinkle the top of the cake with icing sugar or confectioner’s sugar. Gorgeous isn’t it?

Slice into serving sizes and serve, either for dessert after a meal or as a snack with your favorite drinks.

Enjoy! It’s delicious and soul comforting. c“,)


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