Okonomiyaki craze

Janet started all this with this post on okonomiyaki.

Upon request, she brought me a pack of okonomiyaki flour and a bottle of okonomiyaki sauce when she visited me a few weeks ago.  I immediately tried it and was hooked! I ate it four nights in a row.  Partly because of addiction and partly because of practical reasons.  (I didn’t want the huge cabbage I bought to go to waste.)

I tried different things each time: adding bacon, slivers of sausages, shrimp, cheese, whole eggs, nori.  It was really fun to make too!  The final product may look fancy, but it’s terribly easy to do.  Just like a making a pancake.  Flipping the entire thing was a challenge too.  Thankfully, I managed and didn’t end up with okonomiyaki-on-the-floor.  (Thanks to all the cooking shows that “taught” me how to do it!)

Mix everything into the batter and spread onto a hot, nonstick pan
You can add whatever you like (OKONOMI) ! Lay bacon on one side and flip it over.
I went grand with the last okonomiyaki I made: bacon, crisped sausages, shrimp, and a whole egg!
Spreading the tangy-sweet okonomi sauce browns it quickly.
This tastes as good as it looks. My Japanese colleague CRAVED for it after seeing the picture. 🙂
While eating my okonomiyaki with a glass of ice-cold citrus juice, I watched this No Reservations Osaka special:

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Apple Lemon Poppy Cake

I love baking completely from scratch, but I also enjoy taking ready-made mixes and experimenting with them.  When it comes to instant cake mixes and anything one needs for convenient baking, Germany is tops.  Every supermarket has a complete stock of a multitude of mixes, single-use flavorings , and even instant cake decor.  Tweaking a simple and cheap cake mix to create something extra special is an easy way to impress your friends or guests without worrying about never having tried a new recipe.

For this food experiment, I wanted to get rid of an old box of instant lemon cake mix.  Since I still had a pack of poppyseeds and apples that were about to go bad, I thought of putting them all together.

MATERIALS AND METHODS

-One box of instant lemon cake

-3 Tablespoons of dried poppyseeds

-Two apples (Or just enough to make three layers in a loafpan), peeled and sliced into 0.5mm thickness

-For the caramel garnish: 5 tablespoons white sugar, 2 tablespoons butter, 4 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk (NOTE: These are estimates and one should adjust accordingly to achieve the proper thickness.  The mixture should be viscous and thick enough to coat the back of a spoon heavily.)

  • Prepare the cake mix as written on the box, add poppy seeds to the mixture
  • Grease a loaf pan of the proper size with butter
  • Set one layer of apples in the pan, sprinkle with a little sugar, add another layer of apples
  • Pour cake mix into pan
  • Make one layer of apples to top the loaf
  • Bake the cake according to the instructions on the box.
  • For the caramel:
    • heat up a dry pan
    • spread the sugar evenly in the pan
    • caramelize (Watch the sugar melt and turn yellow, while swirling the pan around. Do NOT mix with a spoon. Note that the darker the liquid turns, the more bitter/intense the caramel gets.
    • add butter and swirl around in pan
    • add condensed milk, mix on low heat until uniform
    • let caramel set
Glazed with lemon sugar that came along with the mix

RESULTS AND DISCUSSION

Poppy seeds go well with sour cakes/loaves which is why I thought of adding them to the mix.  Since the lemon cake is already sour and the apples will be rather tart, the cake is suggested to be served with the caramel.  In lieu of the caramel, one can also use butterscotch.  The recipe is the same as above, but one must add about 100mL of cream instead of condensed milk.  This butterscotch can then be drizzled on top of the cake.

Served with a lemon glaze, a caramel quenelle, and white chocolate shavings

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Asian Barbecue Pasta

Among all the dishes I’ve made up or mastered, this one has got to be my “signature dish”.  Whenever I serve this in parties, I always get good reviews.  I was reluctant at first to reveal the recipe, but since Kookie promised the recipes for her birthday lunch, I have decided to make it public.  (As a safeguard too, I’m not revealing any specific brands.  If you still want the original, you’ve got to eat at my place.)

This dish was inspired by the Charlie Chan Chicken Pasta from a chain called Yellow Cab Pizza, which was my favorite pizza restaurant back home.  After eating the dish so many times, I decided, why not experiment and make my own version?

Since I don’t have access to my usual ingredients (ie. my favorite brands back home), I have standardized this recipe using as many items as can be found in a common German supermarket.


MATERIALS AND METHODS

4 Tablespoons vegetable oil

5 cloves of garlic (finely chopped)

150 g roasted peanuts

200 g chicken (cut into thin strips)

300 g Fresh champignons (thinly sliced)

1 red chili pepper (labuyo or Thai variety, finely chopped)

1 bottle barbecue sauce (~250 mL, any kind/brand, but darker barbecue sauce is better)

80 mL oyster sauce

200 g (~6 Tablespoons) creamy peanut butter

300 mL water

85 g sugar

2.5 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon pepper

1-2 bell peppers (~250 g, cut into strips)

5 teaspoons sesame oil

  • Sautee the peanuts and the garlic in the vegetable oil and 1 tsp of sesame oil until the garlic is golden, but not brown.

  • Add and cook the chicken strips
  • Add mushrooms, chili, barbecue sauce, oyster sauce, peanut butter, and water. Mix well.

  • Add sugar, salt, and pepper. Simmer at low heat until sauce thickens.  Adjust flavor to your own liking.
  • Remove from heat. Add in chopped bell peppers and 4 teaspoons of sesame oil. Mix well and let the sauce rest for about 5 min.

  • Mix sauce with some pre-cooked fusilli pasta.
  • Garnish with additional roasted peanuts and chili flakes.  Serve with crisp bread, preferably sesame crackers (Sesam Knäckebrot).
  • This recipe can serve about 10 people (~800g of uncooked fusilli.)

RESULTS AND DISCUSSION

I had the hardest time standardizing this dish, especially since (A) I’m not used to measuring anything and usually just go by taste, and (B) It’s so hard to re-create the actual flavor of the pasta using German ingredients!  Even this “Euro-version” of my signature pasta dish, although close to the original, still isn’t IT.  Nevertheless, this version is still a crowd-pleaser.

The sauce must be very thick and intensely-flavored.  For me, the proper sauce is intensely savory and sweet at the same time, with just the right amount of warmth provided by the chili.  The sesame flavor must be there, but must not dominate the entire dish.  Thus, one must be careful in choosing the sesame oil to use.  If the sesame oil is made from dark or toasted sesame, a smaller amount may be needed.  (NB: There are some people with sesame allergies, so be careful!)

I used a large amount of sugar for the sauce simply because peanut butter and barbecue sauce here in Europe just aren’t sweet enough.  In the Philippines, I had favorite brands of BBQ sauce and peanut butter that didn’t need further sweetening.  (If those back home can guess it, you can actually nail this dish :p)  An alternative to the tomato-based BBQ sauce is any kind of java sauce or peanut-based BBQ sauce found in Asian foodstores.

This dish can be made with canned tuna instead of chicken.  This switch makes it easier to cook and is cheaper too.  Another alternative is to make the dish completely vegetarian by completely omitting the meat and doubling the amount of mushrooms.  For this version, I used fresh large champignons, but I would usually use rehydrated shiitake mushrooms due to their meaty consistency.

Since the sauce will be very thick and flavorful, it is highly recommended that the sauce be pre-mixed with the pasta.  The pasta should only be lightly coated with the barbecue sauce.  Smaller pasta types with a high surface area are also recommended (eg. fusilli, spirelli, or penne).  The sauce can be frozen and kept for a long time.  If this is to be done, it is better to just add the bell peppers after reheating.

So there you go!  Do let me know if you try this at home and if you make any revisions.  For my friends who do know the brands I purposely omitted, I trust you will NOT reveal them under any circumstances.

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Belgian Food Discoveries

I was in Belgium with a couple of friends for the rest of the holiday break.  I eventually got to visit Antwerp, Leuven, Brussels, and Brugge.  It was great to finally take a break from Heidelberg and get out of Germany after being here for about seven months now.

I must be honest: Belgium is not the best place to be in the winter.  It rained most of the time and, except for the perfectly sunny new year’s day in Brugge, it was pretty much damp, frigid, and foggy everywhere we went.  (No offense to all the Belgians and Belgium-lovers out there.)  Why should people still go to Belgium then?  The simplest answer must be the food.

It isn’t any of the fancy, complicated, delicate food I sometimes like.  They know how to keep people sane here.  Sugar, fat, and alcohol make people happy, and that’s what they give them.  The amount of chocolate they have alone should trigger enough chemical reactions to make one forget the dreary weather.  One simply MUST visit if just to experience the street food culture.  I’m definitely returning to Belgium to taste everything again. (OK, also to see the pretty sights, but with friendlier weather next time.  I’d LOVE to see Brugge again and see the museums in Brussels.)

CHOCOLATE

You’re never too far from a chocolate shop, be it an unknown stand, or something as popular as Godiva, Neuhaus, or Cote D’Or.  Leonidas is to Belgium as McDonald’s is to the USA.  Inescapable.

Baby Jesus on a bed of chocolate. Only in Belgium.
All the truffles you want
So many to choose from!
Get your chocolate pralines in a chocolate cup
And put your chocolate truffles in a chocolate box. Environment-friendly packaging!
See bears made of chocolate...
... or an enlarged chocolate replica of the Mannekin Pis in Brussels (Pissing boy)
Chocolate shops are everywhere
Sometimes they're just one store apart.

FRIES

The Frituur stands are just as ubiquitous as the chocolate shops.  There are the thick golden brown fries (perfectly crisp on the outside and fluffy inside), but these shops also sell fried krokets, nuggets, ribs, and sausages.  Everything is made to order so you’re sure the food is still hot and crisp when you get it.

Make sure to visit a simple stand with long winding lines of students (not tourists) in front of it.  These kiosks usually have late opening hours- perfect for the munchies after a long party or day’s worth of sight-seeing.

The Fritur Shop
More than just fries
Everything is deep-fried to perfection
Where the magic happens. (It reminds me of a stage, and the fries have spotlights on them, haha.)
Whole chicken and chips in a paper cone... interesting.

WAFFLES

To complete the Belgian triumvirate of street food are waffles or gaufres.  Oui educated me about Belgian waffles during my stay.  There are two general kinds of Belgian waffles: the Liege/Luikse Waffle and the Brusselese/Bruxelles Waffle.  The Liege waffle is oval in shape, denser, and has pearl sugar, making it naturally sweet.  In my opinion, it is best eaten without any toppings.  The Brussels waffle is usually larger and rectangular in shape.  It is lighter since it does not contain any pearl sugar crystals.  Thus, it is best eaten with a topping of cream, fruit, chocolate, or a dusting of powdered sugar.

Cheap waffles will only cost 1,5o Euro.  Most of the ones near major tourist spots will cost 2,00.  It’ll also cost more with added toppings.  Remember, though that one’s first authentic Belgian waffle should always be plain.  (Dusted with sugar if it’s a Brussels waffle).   Oui and I will testify to this.   A good waffle should be warm and crisp on the outside, but soft inside.  Don’t waste your time eating the pre-made ones covered with hardened chocolate.  Those are usually cold and stale.  I made that mistake just once.  Still good, but not good enough.

Top three waffles I’ve tasted:

No.3: The plain Liege waffle in Leuven near the town center (facing the statue called Fons/Fonski).

No.2: The plain Liege waffle from the stand inside the Antwerpen Central Station (near the exit and the escalators).

No.1: The chocolate-covered Liege waffle from the tiny stand sandwiched between the Godiva and Leonidas shops just in front of the Manneken Pis in Brussels.  I’m salivating just thinking of it right now…

Tourist tip: If you want to take some home, get a pack of the Valerie Liege Waffles and heat them up in the toaster. Almost like freshly-prepped ones.

The stand in the Antwerpen Central Station. My first genuine Belgian waffle.
Second best waffle I've ever tasted
A snack for the train ride to Leuven
Waffle stand in Brussels in front of Mannekin Pis
Waffle shop in Brussels gets my seal of approval. BEST waffle (with chocolate sauce) ever!
A bright yellow waffle truck greets tired tourists after climbing a hill in Brussels. I love how it blocks all the architecture behind it, haha.

BEER

What do we wash all the chocolate, fries, and waffles with?  Why Belgian beer, of course!  I live in beer-lover land myself, but even in Germany, beer is not the No.1 drink. (TRIVIA: Coffee is!)  The Belgians, however, have placed beer in the top spot.  In some restaurants, you can sample at least 100 beers.  Come to think of it, you don’t even have to visit one of these bars.  Just head for the nearest supermarket or night shop and have your fill.

I got to taste five beers while in Belgium:

(1) Leffe triple: An Abbey beer/ale.  Strong bitter flavor at first, but ends with a caramel aftertaste.

(2) Chimay bruin: Another Abbey/trappist beer.  The brand name caught our attention first, but I’m glad we tried it.  Bold flavors like Leffe, but goes down even smoother. It actually gets sweeter as you keep on gulping it.  The best beer I’ve tasted.

(3) Hoegaarden Forbidden Fruit: Like the name suggests, this beer is really fruity.  Light like the regular Hoegaarden, but has some hints of spices and orange.

(4) Belle-Vue Kriek: Very sweet raspberry beer.  You almost can’t taste the alcohol.  Still delicious, though.

(5) Stella Artois: I first tasted this during my trip to Europe three years ago.  It became one of my fave beers then.  Now that I’ve had the opportunity to taste so many beers in Germany and Belgium, though, the Stella just falls flat.  When I drank it in Belgium recently, it just seemed too watery and just lacked the depth of flavor I like in a beer. Too bad, especially since the headquarters is just in Leuven, where Oui lives.

Really good beer. (Odd name, though, since CHIMAY is a rather derogatory term for a helper or nanny in the Philippines.)
Beer galore

A FEW MORE BELGIUM FOOD TIPS

Really good hostel breakfast food

In Antwerp, the De Bedstay Hostel didn’t just have a really good location and cozy interiors.  The owners also delivered a big breakfast to our door early in the morning.  Real value for money!

Breakfast at De Bedstay in Antwerpen.

A taste of greece in Brussels

Just behind the Grand Place in Brussels is a small street lined with Greek restos.  Great deals for authentic Greek dishes here.  We went to Mykonos and it wasn’t a disappointment.

Little Greece

The BEST ginger tea ever

The Lombardia Natural Food restaurant in Antwerpen is a must-see.  They sell vegetarian and vegan dishes at reasonable prices. However, people usually visit this place for the atmosphere and their legendary hot ginger tea.

The cafe has a hip flower-power feel to it.  Plastered on the walls are pictures of (mostly vegan) celebrities who have hunted for the restaurant and weren’t disappointed (eg. Sting and Moby).  The place is in every Antwerp guidebook and has been featured in countless magazines and television shows, both in Belgium and abroad.  The owners even claim that a big multinational company has tried to buy their recipe for the ginger tea, but they refused to sell out.

The ginger tea’s a bit expensive, but it was worth it.  I’ll return to Antwerpen just to have it!

Funky store entrance
Hip and cozy
Authentic and not a tourist trap
The vegitarian and vegan menu

The next time I return to Belgium, I’ll make sure to try the Flemish stews and some of their seafood, especially the mussels.  These folks love their shellfish so much, they even shape their chocolates that way… Can’t wait to return when it’s sunny.  Right now, I need to shed the holiday weight I’ve put on eating all this stuff, haha.

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How to have a Heidelberg Christmas (aka. A “Julie and Julia” Christmas) Part 2 of 2

For some weeks now, I’ve been obsessed with the film Julie and Julia.  For those unfamiliar with the film, it’s about blogger Julie Powell’s attempt to cook all 524 recipies of Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” in 365 days.  A wonderful romantic comedy exploring the struggles of the titular characters, this movie was also the best “foodie film” i’ve seen in a while.

When I knew my friends Oui and Chinggay were coming to Heidelberg for Christmas, I made sure to plan a party with memorable food.  Of course, being far from home, I immediately thought that some Filipino food would help with the holiday homesickness (thus the Christmas dinner Oui posted about).  For our Christmas day lunch, however, I wanted something a bit more extravagant since my other friends from Heidelberg would also come over.  Still not over my “Julie and Julia” phase, I took my inspiration from it and prepared dishes featured prominently in the film along with some other ones that had a Christmas feel.

So here’s our Christmas lunch menu!  Recipies will be featured in succeeding posts.

Salad

Modified Waldorf Salad

Since we did last-minute shopping for this dish, the supermarkets all ran out of walnuts!  I decided to substitute hazelnuts and it still turned out fine.   I used three kinds of apples for this one: Red Gala, Pink Lady, Granny Smith.

Poultry and Stuffing

Oven-roasted whole chicken and turkey legs (flavored with herbs and cream)       Served with a creamy gravy and cranberry sauce

I originally wanted to roast a whole duck or goose, but since I wouldn’t have room in my fridge to thaw the thing two days before Christmas, I opted for a smaller chicken and two giant turkey legs.  The poultry was massaged with herbed butter (with thyme, oregano, garlic, and nutmeg) and baked. Towards the latter part of the baking, it was basted with thick cream about three times.  The cream-basting was inspired by a recipe from “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”.  The creamy drippings was then used to make the gravy.

Sausage, Apple, and Sour Cherry Stuffing

I bought sour cherries in syrup from the supermarket and I wanted to use them in a stuffing for the roast poultry.  I then searched for a recipe online and that led me to something that used pears, croutons, and sour cherries. I wanted a savory component to the dish, so I just made up my own recipe on the fly, adding onions and fresh bratwurst.  I was crossing my fingers the whole time I was cooking it and was just basing everything on my knowledge of the individual ingredients’ flavors. In the end, it turned out a success and was the dish that got the best reviews!

Stews

Oui’s Chicken Afritada

Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourgignon

Mushroom Bourgignon

Served with steamed rice or spätzle (egg noodles)

In a cold country, nothing says Christmas more than a warm, hearty stew. For this, Oui volunteered her Afritada.  On top of this, I knew there was only one other stew fit for the occasion, and that was Boeuf Bourgignon. Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourgignon.

We followed every step as much as possible, except that we couldn’t find any good Pinot Noir from the Bourgogne region, so we just followed Julia’s suggestion and used a nice Chianti.  Also, I added about two tablespoons of sugar to balance the acidity of the wine.   Since I had vegitarians in the crowd, I also made one sans beef but with extra mushrooms.

The preparation for the bourgignon was intense, but in the end it was all worth it.  When we opened the lid after simmering then slow-cooking in the oven for two and a half hours, the scent was intoxicating.  Even before seasoning the stews, we were already impressed with the depth of flavor in there.  It was umami like we had never tasted before. The first bite into the melt-in-your-mouth beef was pure bliss. (I’m salivating now just thinking about it again. I think I’ll thaw out some leftovers now…)  I’m so glad  I tried out this recipe and added it to my repertoire.

Note: We cooked this the day before and just reheated it in the oven in time for the party. It tasted even better!

Dessert

Reine de Saba (French Chocolate Almond Cake) and Elisen Lebkuchen

This cake was also featured in “Julie and Julia” in a montage of cooking sessions.  The characters looked like they enjoyed the cake so much that it inspired me to try it out.  The cake was very easy to make (thanks to my Christmas gift to myself: a Tefal Prepline Stabmix/whip set).  I deviated from the recipe and added a tablespoon of Amaretto to the choco-butter icing.  We also enjoyed shots of the liqueur while eating the cake.  It was like biting into a rich giant fudge brownie. Yum!

Also, a German Christmas wouldn’t be complete without some Lebkuchen, so I got a roll of the genuine glazed Nürnberger Elisen Lebkuchen (ie. the expensive one) which we all enjoyed.

It wasn’t the easiest of Christmas lunches, but with the help of friends, I was able to make it happen. I had a blast cooking with and for them and I’d definitely do it again next year. Now to plan the menu for that…

Frohe Weihnachten und einen guten Rutsch ins neue Jahr!  Maligayang Pasko at Manigong Bagong Taon!

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My Filipino-inspired Birthday Lunch (4 months overdue)

It has been some time since I posted something here, so apologies to my friends who’ve been expecting something from me for a while. Anyway, the last time I wrote something, I gave the lunch menu for my 25th birthday.  It looked daunting when I first planned it, but I was ecstatic to actually have pulled it off.

My concept was a Filipino tasting menu since I always had difficulty explaining Philippine cuisine to my friends. The best definition I could give them was “Think Southeast Asian, but not too spicy and with Chinese and Spanish influences.” That only puzzles them further.  (I knew I should have brought Ma’s copy of the Kulinarya cookbook with me.)

I spent a week planning my menu and got everything I needed from the Tiger and Dragon Food Store which had a really impressive collection of Asian ingredients.  Every Filipino ingredient I could think of was there.  Note that in the latter dishes I will mention, everything was prepared from scratch. Yes, they even had fresh pandan leaves, powdered ube root, and coconut milk!

I did the meal twice: the first time for my PhD student friends, and the second time for my research group.  So that it would be easy for me, I made sure there were no more than seven guests at a time.  Also I thought it would be more practical (ie. cheaper) and impressive to just serve the food in portions and course by course.

The first time I did it, one of my guests came a few minutes early and watched me in the kitchen.  I was preparing the lumpia (Philippine spring rolls) when she arrived and she was excited to learn how to prepare the peanut sauce served with it. What really made me happy was how she thought that I looked professional and asked if I studied cooking somewhere. I told her I never took formal lessons, but I’ve helped out my mom in the kitchen since I was a little kid and I enjoyed reading cookbooks, watching cooking shows & competitions, and eating in all kinds of restaurants.

She then complimented my chopping skills, which I was thankful for again. You see, as a birthday present to myself, I had bought a professional Wüsthof chef’s knife before I even secured all the ingredients just so I would have a more fun prep period.

The Birthday Kitchen

Since I served the meal course by course I was able to explain to them what each dish was.  They listened intently as I explained when these dishes were usually prepared and what their influences were.

This was the menu:


Amuse bouche
Sisig na tokwa
Tofu sisig bites served with faux pork rind, eggyolk drizzle, and aioli
(Served with shots of San Miguel Beer / SMB)
Origin/Influence: Original Pampanga creation
(came from the alternative use of meat parts the Americans at Clark Airbase didn’t want)
In Chinese soup spoons for easy eating

I had to serve this in small bites since I just wanted an appetizer.  Sisig is usually prepared with boiled and grilled pork (pig face to be exact), but I used tofu for easy prep and a healtier alternative.  As an amuse, it was good that the sisig packed a punch with the salt and spices.  Since I couldn’t find quail eggs the day before, I decided to just drizzle heated egg yolk and cook the egg white with the sisig.  The “pork rind” was a cheap German snack which looked like chicharon, but tasted like a Philippine snack called Fritos Ring. Really nice alternative since real pork rind was expensive and sold only in large bags.

I thought of pairing the sisig with SMB (San Miguel Beer) for them to taste the most famous beer in the Philippines.  However, since SMB was expensive (about 3x as expensive as German beers), I decided to do shots of it. Most of them really liked the lightness and fruity tones of SMB. One of them who didn’t drink beer a lot really liked it as well.  An Indian friend commented that I should just cook this dish and we should have a beer party with it. Great suggestion. I mean the Germans love grilled food, pork, onions, vinegar, and beer. Why wouldn’t they love sisig, right?

Salad
Lumpiang sariwa
Philippine fresh vegetable roll with egg net
served with peanut sauce
Origin/Influence: Chinese, Southeast Asian

Salad with the amuse

For the lumpia, I originally wanted to use ubod / hearts of palm, but the only available ones were canned and really expensive. I decided to just use carrots, togue/mungbean sprouts, and preserved bamboo shoots. It turned out to be really tasty, especially with the sweet-salty peanut garlic sauce. Since I wanted it to look pretty as well, I made the lumpia wrapper into a net instead of a plain crepe. Got great reviews on the taste and presentation of this one. Some of them couldn’t stop eating the sauce!


Entrée

Pansit Canton at Kropek
Philippine style lo mein noodles and shrimp crackers
Origin/Influence: Chinese

Since it’s tradition to eat pansit on one’s birthday (for long life), I decided to have this as the prelude to the main course.  I used dried pancit canton, various fresh veggies, and an oyster-based sauce for this. This was the only dish I cooked from scratch on the actual party day. Got the kropek from my favorite Chinese restaurant in Bismarckplatz.

Main course
Dalawang luto sa karne: Adobo at Kaldereta
Duo of Philippine meat dishes:
Chicken & Pork Adobo* and
Lamb & Pork Caldereta
Origin/Influence: Adobo-Native, Caldereta-Spanish
(Served with steamed jasmine rice)
*also as vegetarian option with tofu and mushrooms

The adobo was the star of the lunch. Everyone kept raving about it. I prepared it the night before and let the meat absorb the oil and sauce. Then, just before serving it, I seared the skin to almost crisp and drizzled the sauce on it on the serving platter.  The kaldereta was stewed for three hours the day before as well. It cooked for so long that the lamb cubes just melted in one’s mouth.  The meat dishes went well with the red wine that my roommate bought for the occasion. For the adobo, I had to try it out as a vegitarian option as well since one of my labmates was vegitarian.

Dessert
Samu’t saring minatamis:
Ube puto, turon, buko-pandan

Sampler platter of sweets:
Purple yam rice cake with coconut toffee and coco-butterscotch sauce
Mini-banana eggrolls
Coconut-pandan sherbet
Origin/Influence: Puto-Native, Coconut desserts-Native and Malay, Eggroll-Chinese


For dessert, I had so many things in mind I ended up with a tasting platter. For the frozen dessert, I originally planned to make a buko-pandan gelatin salad. Unfortunately, my pandan jello did not set so I just mashed it together with the cream and made some kind of sherbet that still had the refreshing taste of pandan.  They really liked the taste of pandan and kept on asking about it. The rice cake / puto turned out well and I was surprised since it was the first time I made it.

Restaurant-feel: plating the dessert

In the end everyone enjoyed the lunch and thanked me for the meal. They all agreed they had a blast on the “culinary adventure”.  My boss even commented that I should already extend my Ph.D. to seven years, haha.  My friends now call me “Chef.”  Not really, but why not?  Well, if things don’t go well with my Ph.D. at least I know I have a fallback!  A Filipino restaurant in Europe would really be something interesting, wouldn’t it?  I’m sure the folk here in Heidelberg would welcome it.

*All recipes to be featured later (hopefully)
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Geburtstag Mittagessen: Pinoy comfort food served in a finer way

Can I do it? You bet I can.

The full story and all the recipes and pictures in good time here on our PhoodJournal.

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DP ambigram logo

Geburtstag Mittagessen

Nur für sieben Personnen

26.Juli.2009 mit Freunden, 1300
29.Juli.2009 mit DKFZ-A160, 1230

Amuse bouche

Sisig na tokwa

Spicy tofu sisig bite served with faux pork rind, eggyolk drizzle, and aioli
Served with a shot of San Miguel Beer

Salad

Lumpiang sariwa
Philippine vegetable roll with egg net
Served with peanut sauce

Entrée

Pansit Canton

Philippine style lo mein (stir-fried noodles) with three kinds of mushroom


Main course

Dalawang luto sa karne: Adobo at Kaldereta
Duo of Philippine meat dishes:
Chicken & Pork Adobo* and Lamb Caldereta
Served with steamed jasmine rice

*Also available as vegetarian option with tofu and mushrooms instead of meat

Dessert

Samu’t saring minatamis: ube puto, turon, buko-pandan
Sampler platter of sweets:
Purple yam rice cake with coco-butterscotch sauce and spun sugar
Mini deep-fried banana spring roll
Frozen coconut-pandan salad

Drinks
Selection of carbonated fruit drinks and water
Red wine
Selection of coffee and tea

Gourmet with limited stocks: Croque Monsieur or Monte Cristo

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In my first week here in Germany, I just felt extremely lazy, cooking-wise.  It was probably fatigue from jet lag or adjustment-jitters that led to the lack of enthusiasm when it came to food.  On top of that, I knew it would still be weeks before I received my first month’s stipend and so I had to scrimp on materials for my usual culinary experiments.

In my first week, all I had in my pantry and refrigerator were the following:

1.    Half a dozen eggs
2.    A pack of Schwarzwälder Schinken (Blackforest Ham)
3.    A pack of regular forest ham
4.    A pack of Gouda cheese
5.    A loaf of wheat bread
6.    A jar of mayonnaise
7.    Three mini-cups of ready-made Milchreis (Which got me addicted to the stuff)
8.    A carton of milk
9.    A carton of multi-vitamin juice
10.    Two bottles of beer (Berliner Weissbier mit Kirsch, and Erdinger Weiss)
11.    A bottle of Heinz chili curry ketchup (The best condiment ever)
12.    A bottle of Heinz sundried tomato dipping sauce (better than plain ketchup)
13.    Muesli mix
14.    Salt, pepper, and sugar

I didn’t even have oil!

24052009039Only the middle shelf was mine then. Everything else belonged to my flatmate.

Every day that week, I would have my muesli with milk for breakfast.  I would then have a hearty lunch in the DKFZ or the University Mensa.  When I got home, it was just juice, bread, ham, cheese, and curry ketchup for dinner.  Sometimes, I’d cook an egg too, but only if I was driven enough to heat something. I was that lazy.

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My dinner on the first night. (And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th)

By the fifth day, I was getting tired of my usual fare so I modified. Just a wee bit, though. The only new thing I did was I seared the ham and threw in scrambled eggs after.

By the seventh day, I started feeling so deprived.  I thought, “I need to liven this up or I’ll go crazy before my next supermarket visit!”  Then I remembered I could make a pretty neat fried sandwich with the ingredients I had.

So here it is: an easy-to-make dish that livens up the lowly ham and cheese sandwich.

MATERIALS and METHODS
•    Slices of bread (American loaves)
•    Ham, any kind
•    Cheese (Gouda, Emmenthal, or Gruyere)
•    Mayonnaise
•    1 Egg
•    Milk

1.    Scramble the egg and add a splash of milk (~3-4 Tablespoons). Add a pinch of salt and pepper.

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2.    Sear the ham just to render a bit of the fat.

3.    Assemble the sandwich, but make sure it’s even and not too bulgy

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4.    Dip the sandwich in the egg-milk mixture. Make sure both sides are coated well.  The mixture should be good enough for two sandwiches.

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5.    Make sure the pan with the rendered fat is very hot.  Place the soaked sandwich.

6.    Cook the sandwich until both sides are light brown or the faces begin to be more crisp.

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RESULTS and DISCUSSION

Traditionally, such a heated sandwich would be called a Croque Monsieur in France.  It can be grilled and served with additional melted Gruyere and some béchamel sauce on top.  If a sunny-side up is added on top of this, it is called a Croque Madame.  In the United States, the fried ham and cheese sandwich is called a Monte Cristo.  This version is very similar, though is usually fried in butter and served with powdered sugar or some fruit preserve.

Picture 2

Monte Cristo

Picture 1

Croque Monsieur

(Pictures: Monte Cristo from Rainhas do Lar, Croque Monsieur from Eating Seattle.)


For this version, I had to render the ham fat since I had no oil!  A better alternative would be to sear the sandwich in butter. The final Croque is more filling than a usual ham and cheese sandwich.  The molten cheese should go well with the crisped ham and bread.

OUTLOOK and RECOMMENDATIONS

•    Serve the croque with various sidings or dipping sauces.  For my croque, I served it with the chili curry ketchup and the  sundried tomato ketchup
•    Cut the sandwich into mini-triangles and it can be an appetizer.
•    Transform any other sandwich into something special by this method.

Oh, and as an end note, on the eighth day of my stay, I couldn’t stand it anymore so I shopped for all the ingredients I needed.  If you’re curious,  here’s what’s in my kitchen pantry and fridge now.

120720097871207200978819062009475

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Now that’s more like it.

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Mein Adobo

Adobo close-up
If each town in Germany has its own specialty Bier or Wurst, in the Philippines, it’s the variety of adobo that makes it de facto national dish.  Following Kookie’s example, it is only proper to have adobo as one’s first post in this journal.

In Spanish, “adobo” means marinade.  Thus, the term “adobo” could be used for any pre-seasoned or cured food item.    In the Philippines, though, to cook something “adobo-style” usually means to cook it with vinegar, garlic, and other spices or sauces, often pepper and soy sauce.  Meat-adobos are the most popular, but vegetable and seafood adobos are also common eg. kangkong/water spinach adobo, squid adobo, and adobong bangus

Adobo is popular in the Philippines probably because the intense flavor lends itself well to the blank flavor of rice, the country’s staple food.  Furthermore it makes for a good packed lunch or an instant meal because of its long shelf-life.  The acid, the salt, the pepper, and the garlic simply provide an unsuitable medium for bacterial and fungal growth.

Each Filipino family has its own set of adobo recipes.  A good family friend, Tita Nancy Reyes-Lumen, even came up with an Adobo Book, featuring more than a hundred variations of the beloved dish.

cookbook_adobo

The following recipe is not from my family; rather, it is my own version of adobo, using ingredients available in Germany.


MATERIALS AND METHODS

•    250 g pork (cubed or Gulasch-cut)
•    400 g chicken (thighs and legs cut into smaller pieces for fast cooking)
•    90 mL vinegar (apple cider will do)
•    90 mL soy sauce (dark soy sauce, Not Kikoman)
•    80 mL water
•    4 cloves of garlic (finely chopped)
•    4 cloves of garlic (smashed, no skin)
•    2 bay leaves
•    ground black pepper
•    3-4 Tablespoons sugar
•    Cooking oil

1.    Make the vinegar-soy sauce-sugar-water mixture.
2.    Add the chopped garlic, 1 Tbsp pepper, and about 4-5 Tbsp. of the sauce mixture to the pork and chicken. Rub the sauce and spices into the meat

marinade
3.    Add about 1 tsp. of cooking oil in a non-stick pan
4.    On high heat, sear the chicken, followed by the pork.

sear 1sear 2
5.    Once the meat is well-seared, add in the rest of the sauce, bay leaves, and smashed garlic.

add sauce
6.    Lower the heat and simmer until the vinegar smell is not too strong. Do not stir.

simmer
7.    Increase the heat and let the sauce reduce to the desired thickness. Give the pot one stir to mix the meat with the thickened sauce.

final

RESULTS AND DISCUSSION

Unlike Kookie’s adobo, I like using a 1:1 ratio for the vinegar and soy sauce.  I prefer the salty soy taste to the acidity of the vinegar.  To balance off the saltiness, though, I add sugar so my adobo is also on the sweet side.  The mixture can be adjusted to one’s taste so try to find your own golden ratio.

It is not advisable to use chicken breast since the long cooking process can lead to dry or tough pieces.   The higher fat content in brown meat is thus better.  Some versions of adobo do not call for the meat to be seared.  I find, though, that my adobo is more flavorful when seared and there is less of the “boiled meat” feel when you bite into it.

Care must be taken when reducing the sauce since the flavors will be more concentrated and the dish may turn out too salty or may lack liquid when stored and re-heated. Again, simply adjust the amount of sauce and its thickness to your satisfaction!


OUTLOOK and RECOMMENDATIONS

Plated

•    Serve the adobo over steaming rice

•    Serve it with a hard-boiled or poached egg

•    For the BBQ-loving Germans, an alternative is to grill adobo-marinated chicken. For this, water must not be added to the sauce mixture and all the garlic must be finely-chopped.  Marinade the meat for at least an hour in the ref. Grill all the meat. Cook the leftover marinade and adjust the flavors.  Reduce this sauce and drizzle over the chicken.  Serve the grilled meat with a side of sour cream.

•    Nix the water and just add coconut milk as a final step before simmering

•    Nix the water and use pineapple juice, or add pineapples and use the syrup in the can

•    Add some red chili for an adobo with a kick

•    Add marble potatoes or mushrooms

•    Deep-fry something in batter and use the adobo reduction as a drizzling sauce.

•    Take your old adobo, turn it into pulled pork or chicken (ie. himayin), add a small amount of freshly-prepared sauce and deep fry until crisp for “adobo flakes” (great rice and pasta topping) [possible future post]

•    Wear your adobo with pride:

adobo shirt

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For the homesick foodie

It is well-known that we remember most what we fully participate in, what we engage our whole selves in.

It is not surprising then that some of our fondest and happiest memories are those related to food. How many times have we gone into a restaurant and tasted a dish so divine we always keep on referring to it and, in future occasions, compare it to other lowly meals?  How many times have we longed for the simple food of our youth when we feel down or unwell?  How many times have we tried preparing food for someone we want most to remember us?

In the final moments of the Pixar film Ratatouille, it is this food-linked memory that saves the day.  Food can lift us up, warm our hearts, and bring us together.  Even in Christianity, we Remember by celebrating a meal.

Food simply engulfs a person completely.  The colors of vegetables in a home-cooked stew.  The crunch of a freshly cracked strip of pork rind.  The smell of cookies being baked snaking its way into your room.  The feel of different textures as you combine something fried, steamed, and sauced.  The taste of perfectly-balanced spices in a traditional dish.  This barrage on one’s senses often leaves a permanent mark.  If one grows up preparing the food of his youth, like I did, the mark is set even deeper, and the memories more vivid.

When I left to pursue my Ph.D. here in Germany, not too long ago, I knew food would be the quickest answer if I ever got homesick.  It’s not that I don’t like European food- I probably have palate that’s as experimental as one can get and I’m open to new flavors.  It’s just that I know at one point, I’m going to start yearning for home and I wanted to be ready when that comes.

Thus, I decided to have a stash of Filipino goods even in my first few weeks here.  It was difficult limiting the items to bring since I didn’t want to have overweight luggage.  In the end, I was able to do a “food edit” and pack what I needed.  When I showed this to Kookie, another author of this blog, her immediate reaction was, “You have to take a picture of this and write about it!”  So I did and here it is:

Pinoys, what can you spy?


On my second week here in Heidelberg, I started scouting for some Asian food shops.  I found two good ones across each other in a central part of town.  One of them, the Tiger and Dragon Food Store, was so complete, I probably won’t need to ask anyone coming over from the Philippines to bring some native flavorings/ingredients.  (More about this in another post, perhaps.)

Just last week, Kookie let me know that Aldi, a popular supermarket chain in Germany, had all its ASIA-label products on sale for the week.  I immediately rushed to the nearest Aldi this weekend and stocked up on some ingredients.  Looking at the expiration dates on some of the stuff surprised me- they sure know how to prolong the shelf life of goods here in Deutschland.  At least now I wouldn’t have to worry about some ingredients of my favorite Asian recipes.

It somehow reminds me of an Asian-inspired gift basket…


Here’s to a great start and more posts on food and  remembering here in the Phoodjournal.

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