Potato and Bacon Gratin

 I’ve been asked so many times how it feels to grow up having no brothers and sisters. At the top of my head I say it’s great: you get all the attention, financial and emotional support. I consider myself lucky. But there are some setbacks – I think about what could be, what could have been, and that’s when I feel the pang of loneliness. Don’t get me wrong I don’t wallow in it…I just want it sometimes. Then I wake up and reality sinks in. I might not have the biggest family, but I’m still happy and thankful.

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This afternoon we visited our loved ones at the cemetery. It’s nothing grand. The scorching heat expedited our trip, but before we left, we said our prayers, lit our candles and left our flowers. I looked around and saw more than a few tombstones unkept, with the paint virtually gone. Clearly they were forgotten. It’s a sad sight really. I know this is getting heavy, but I just need to put it out there: I don’t want to be forgotten. I want to live a full life and all the frills attached to it and still be remembered by the people I left behind.

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Yeah, I daydream a lot. I think about the things I can do, will do and should do. Sometimes I ask myself how I want people to remember me, what legacies I leave behind. I’m being romantic here, but I do want to be remembered because of my food and company, which go hand in hand.

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I made potato gratin yesterday and I wanted to savor that moment. The funny thing is, the first time I made it for class, it was undercooked. I’m happy that I have the luxury of time to make sure this heavy, hearty dish is cooked perfectly. It’s a thing of beauty in its simplicity.
With the same desire of not being forgotten long after I’m gone, I don’t want to forget the moment I opened the oven and just knew everything made sense and fell into place. I was vindicated.

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Potato and Bacon Gratin (serves 4 – 6)
  • 600 grams potatoes
  • 1 medium-sized red onion, minced
  • half a bulb of garlic, minced
  • 4 strips of bacon, sliced into small pieces
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • parmesan cheese, to taste
  • nutmeg, to taste
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  1. In a pan, melt butter over medium heat. Add garlic and onion and saute until fragrant. Add the bacon and render the fat.
  2. Mix in the flour and keep on mixing until it becomes thick, almost like a paste (you’re making a roux). Once the flour-y taste has been cooked off, add in the milk. Stir to incorporate everything. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.
  3. Season with salt, pepper and a little nutmeg. Add the parmesan cheese and adjust seasoning. Remove from heat and set aside.
  4. Preheat the oven to 180 C/350 F. Peel and eye the potatoes. Carefully slice the potatoes, around 1/16th of an inch, like potato chips.
  5. Place the potatoes in the sauce pan and carefully mix together to coat all the slices with the sauce. Reserve a few bacon bits.
  6. Arrange the slices on a 10-inch pie plate. Once done, top it with more parmesan, bacon and sauce. Cover with foil and bake in the oven for an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes, or until potatoes are done.
  7. Remove from heat, slice into individual serving pieces and serve warm. Enjoy!

A Big Breakfast

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By the looks of it, it’ll be a rainy morning today. The weather has always been erratic. Manila weather is even worse. When it rains, especially early in the morning, you know you’re kind of screwed. Commuting and traffic become ten times worse. I’ve learned to brave (and welcome!) the blistering heat because at least I know getting from point A to B is easier, although still uncomfortable.

However, nothing can really be said about what happens when it rains here in Zamboanga. When you’ve faced the mother of all monsters, the tiny ugly imps are manageable. In a strange, reverse-meteoric way, I feel happier when I wake up to the sound of rain. *and on cue, it starts to rain*

Maybe it’s because I know breakfast is mandatory to warm me up. Maybe it’s also because the light in my photos is pretty nice. And when there’s a marriage of the two, I know it’s a good morning indeed.
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My default breakfast meal would have to be egg rings. The inside of a ramekin is lined with bacon then an egg fills the center. It’s then zapped in the microwave or baked for 15 minutes. I’m partial to the gentle cooking that happens when it’s being baked. Today I had the bacon and the eggs, but I wanted more. I had some potatoes, a few spices and a pack of bratwurst just sitting in the freezer. The wheels started to churn and I went into overdrive. It was go time!

I don’t really know if a fancy name fits because this is by no means fancy. But it’s still pretty good. I’m going to be subtle about the title then:
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Baked Eggs over Bratwurst and Potatoes (serves 2 – 3)

  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 pieces bratwurst/hungarian sausage, sliced thinly, around 125 grams each
  • 4 strips of bacon, sliced into 1-inch pieces
  • half a bulb of garlic, minced
  • 1 red onion, sliced
  • 1 small potato, around 150 grams, peeled and diced small
  • 50 grams green peas
  • 4 – 5 eggs
  • cayenne pepper, to taste
  • Spanish paprika, to taste
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • Chili flakes, for garnish
  1. Preheat the oven to 180 C/ 350 F. In a pan, heat the oil. Add the garlic and the onion. Saute until fragrant.
  2. Add the potatoes and cook until it starts to brown at the sides.
  3. Toss in the bacon and saute until it starts to render. Add the sausage slices and mix together.
  4. Add the peas. Season with salt, pepper, cayenne, paprika.
  5. Remove the pan from heat and crack the eggs over the mixture. Season the yolks with a little bit of salt, pepper and paprika.
  6. Place the pan in the oven and allow to cook for about 15 minutes or until the yolks are set but still slightly runny. When done, remove from the oven, garnish with chili flakes and serve warm with rice. Enjoy!

Clam Curry

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I’ve taken it upon me to download whatever torrent file I could get my grubby hands on when I was home a few days ago. Having lived for two months with a plug-it that’s mediocre at best made me more appreciative of the blazing fast internet I have at home. It’s good for the soul, coming home to country comfort.

My mom and I went to the wet market on Saturday to buy some ingredients we need for a little picnic the following day. Before I left, I wanted to have a picnic with my family but things got in the way and it didn’t happen. This time, we made sure that our schedules were wide open. Anyway, there were mounds and mounds of clams in different sizes, (around 5 – 8 per mound) for sale that morning. I didn’t pass up the chance to buy around two mounds because I was inspired by Kumar (of MasterChef AU fame) to cook clams with curry. I’m a big fan of MasterChef Australia, so much in fact, that this blog has thrived after feeding off the show’s happy juju. Thanks to incredible download speeds, I was up-to-date with this season’s offering. The latest season is an All-Stars edition, pitting 4 fan favorites each from season 1 – 3 against each other for charity. In one of the challenges, where it was season 1 vs 2 vs 3 in an all-Indian challenge, Kumar from season 3 cooked mussels (tahong) in coconut milk flavored with a homemade spice mix. We don’t get a lot of really good mussels but clams were in abundance.

Clams and mussels taste like the sea so much that the flavor is unmistakable. It does wonders to soups, rice and now, I can curry to the list. Like most of my kitchen experiments, it was the first time I cooked clams with curry so I just went with gut feel on taste and seasoning.

The garam masala was still in the pantry, albeit a little milder in flavor, and mom always keeps a supply of coconut cream in tetra packs for convenience. I was home…and it was game time. Another home run for the clams.

Clam Curry (serves 2 – 3)

  • around 15 clams
  • 400 ml coconut cream
  • 3 tablespoons curry powder (what I used: 1 1/2 tablespoon garam masala + 1 1/2 tablespoon turmeric powder), or more to taste
  • one 1-inch knob of ginger, minced
  • 1 lemongrass stalk, chopped into 1 inch pieces
  • half a bulb of garlic, minced
  • 1 large white onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 bell peppers (preferably 1 red and 1 green), sliced into thin strips
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 bunch pechay or bok choy, roughly chopped
  • 1 finger chili, sliced, or red pepper flakes (optional)
  1. In a medium-sized pan or sauce pan, preferably with a lid, add a splash or two of oil over medium heat.
  2. Add the garlic and ginger. Allow to toast until fragrant then add the onions. Cook until onions start to go limp. Add the lemongrass and bell peppers and stir everything together.
  3. Add the coconut cream and the spices (and if you’re using it, the chili). Mix everything together until well incorporated. Season with salt and pepper and allow to simmer.
  4. Add the clams and cover the pan.  Allow to cook, making sure to discard the clams that do not open.
  5. Add the pechay at the last minute, stir everything together , let it cook for a bit then remove from heat. Serve warm and enjoy!

 

Waiting out the rain (with pork and cabbage)

I was rushing to school the other day, with my uniform sealed in a plastic garment bag because the weather was incredibly hard on us. Hey, I wanted to make a good first impression. There were no signs that a public vehicle going to my destination was available outside of the place where I’m staying, so I had to take the long way and commute twice.

Because I’m usually lucky with averting tardiness, I arrived on time, only to be greeted by a deserted school and a padlocked main door. It was 30 minutes before class should start and there I was, trying my best not to look like a fool for not checking any notifications before I left. Classes were cancelled. The rain has apparently morphed into proportions fit for a typhoon, but strangely enough, it couldn’t be considered a typhoon – but the numbers don’t lie; the devastation has already surpassed Bagyong Ondoy (typhoon Ondoy, 2009). And it wasn’t a freaking typhoon. Oh and apparently, the real typhoon is coming soon, if what I read on facebook is true. Pray for the Philippines, please?

The rest of my week will be spent waiting out the storm. Food supply is still good, enough to keep us fed until the week ends, and I will never rue the day we chose to live in a subdivision that was flood-free.
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This bowl of ground pork and cabbage was filled to the brim before I decided to photograph it. My friend and I gobbled most of it up like wolves, because thinking about the weather is stressful. As usual, this is nothing fancy – ground sirloin fried with small cubes of potatoes, minced garlic and sliced onions, dressed in a splash of soy sauce, then finished off with half a cabbage, that wilts so much the intimidation goes away with the volume. This is good stuff.

Should I even post the recipe? Yes? No?

What the heck, let’s run with it!
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A Delicious and Hearty Bowl of Pork and Cabbage (serves 2 – 3)

  • 3 tablespoons oil
  • 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 red onion, peeled and sliced
  • around 300 grams ground pork sirloin
  • 1 medium sized potato, peeled and cut into small cubes
  • half a head of cabbage, sliced into think strips
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • a splash of soy sauce (just enough to coat the pork)
  1. In a pan, heat oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and the onions and cook until garlic is fragrant and onions start to go limp.
  2. Add the potatoes and mix to coat with the oil. Fry until the potatoes start to crisp and become golden brown at the edges.
  3. Add the ground pork, season with salt and pepper and cook until it browns and some of the fat starts to render.
  4. Add the soy sauce and mix well until the pork is evenly coated.
  5. Add the cabbage. Carefully mix well to allow the heat to wilt the cabbage.
  6. When done, remove from heat and serve warm with rice. Enjoy!

Longganisa and Atsuete Sinangag (Fried Rice)

The weather has been unforgiving, and I learned that the hard way. I woke up with my throat sore and head throbbing. The body malaise flushed any intention to make the day productive, down the drain. Flashbacks of moments where I let myself be bombarded by the weather without any form of defense kept nagging at me. Now I understand the beauty of a hoodie, or at least an umbrella. It’s strange how being sick lets you sink deep into a pit of self-pity – how I’m alone and I need to take care of my defenseless self. That’s just me being a (bleep) of course.

I went to the McCormick event probably still under the weather. I might as well be patient zero. Did me going home with free bread spread make me feel any better? Not really, but I did feel good after finally cooking something worth posting about. And yes Virginia, I used the garlic bread spread on something that isn’t bread!

There was a pack of longganisa sitting in the freezer, and I was raring to try it out. It wasn’t just any longganisa – the label says it’s ‘alaminos longganisa’ which means it’s hopefully a regional specialty of Pangasinan, one of the many provinces in the Philippines.
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I was probably going in blind: I didn’t know what it tasted like, and what effect it will have on the rice. So after patiently mixing everything together, I was eager to finally taste the finished product and, well, it was delicious, delicious, delicious. And I’m not just saying that because of my affinity for unreasonably large servings of rice. It was delicious.

I call it longganisa and atsuete fried rice (sinangag in Filipino) because these two components are primarily responsible for imparting the delicious flavor and color to the rice. It’s a no-brainer and well, I’m not creative with names.
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If ‘alaminos longganisa’ is too obscure for you, if you know of a variant that is more deliciously sour than sweet, then use that. And I’ve recently found out that atsuete or annatto can also be sold in powder form! No joke. Then that means it’ll be easier for you to make the atsuete oil by just heating the oil, adding the powder and let the color bleed out. You don’t have to remove the seeds anymore because there are none!
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By all means, use the bread spread to add another dimension of flavor to the dish. I can vouch for the garlic variant by saying that it does wonders to fried rice. Sure, it might be counterintuitive with being an advocate of the slow food movement, but well, heck, I won’t apologize.
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Longganisa and Atsuete Fried Rice (Serves 3 – 4)

  • 4 ½ cups day old rice
  • 6 – 8 pieces alaminos longganisa, casings removed and crumbled (if unavailable: just use regular longganisa and just sauté the rice in atsuete/annatto oil)
  • 1 carrot, sliced into small cubes
  • 4 pieces sitaw/string beans, stalk ends trimmed, sliced into 1-inch pieces
  • 3 tablespoons cooking oil (or atsuete oil if using regular longganisa)
  • 3 tablespoons McCormick Bread Spread (garlic flavor)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  1. In a pan/pot large enough to hold the rice, place the crumbled longganisa with enough water to cover the bottom of the pan.
  2. Cook over medium heat, until the water boils and has reduced. At this point, add the carrots and the string beans. Cook until beans are tender and water has evaporated.
  3. Add oil/atsuete oil to sauté everything together. Add the garlic Bread Spread and mix well.
  4. Add the rice, fry and mix well. When done, remove from pan and serve warm. Enjoy!

And just to give you a quick glimpse of how I’m running things lately, this is my makeshift studio:
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Yes, that’s my bed frame, and a few linens I bought at The Landmark (on sale, of course), and that blue thing on the side is my mattress that I had to remove. How’s that for going the extra mile?

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We Ate Like Royalty

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Our place is a 39-square meter condominium unit that we rent at a relatively cheap price. Our kitchen is like a small galley – nothing fancy, with space that isn’t too friendly for a big guy like me, but we get by…I guess. Sure, I’d give an arm and a leg for a kitchen that functions like a kitchen, but what we have right now comes with the territory. Sometimes I think it’s prohibitive, but that’s probably just me being a (bleep) about it.

Our expanding bellies and (slightly) sedentary lifestyle drove me to make this dish one morning. I woke up at around 10am, and we were all hungry so the need was there. Back home, a hefty bowl of pork and sitaw guisado (stir-fried pork with string beans) would merit an even heftier serving of rice. I tried to recreate it to the best of my memory, but I think nothing really comes close to how my Mama Eng would do it. In an attempt to live healthier, my roommates and I splurged on vegetables at the local grocery, so there were carrots and tomatoes sitting in the fridge – of course you know how it ended.
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I didn’t bring anything to help me with photographing the food I cook (no linens, no money to buy linens!) but as luck would have it, my tiny room has a window that lets in a great amount of light. All I had to do was to remove my bed’s mattress and use the wooden frame as my surface! (The things I do to get the shot.)

Extravagant, this isn’t…heck, the technique isn’t something groundbreaking, but during that solitary moment around our little mini bar (we don’t have a table), taking in every single morsel with rice, we ate like royalty.
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Pork and Sitaw (String Beans) Guisado (serves 3)

  • 150 grams sitaw, cleaned and sliced into 2-inch pieces
  • 4 medium-sized tomatoes, quartered
  • 250 grams pork belly, sliced into bite-sized cubes
  • 1 small carrot, sliced
  • 4 tablespoons soy sauce
  • Water to cook the pork + ¼ cup water to cook the string beans
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. In a medium-sized pan, add the pork and enough water to cover the bottom of the pan up to the height of the pork.
  2. Allow to boil over medium heat until the water has almost evaporated. Add the carrots and mix well. The water will begin to cook the carrots.
  3. When the water has evaporated and pork’s fat has rendered, add the string beans and the soy sauce. Mix well to coat evenly. You may add a little bit of water to cook the string beans.
  4. Cook until the water evaporates and the strings beans and carrots are tender. Season with salt and pepper. When done, remove from pan and serve with rice. Enjoy!

An Easier Boeuf Bourguignon

There’s this really amazing food blog that constantly fills my google reader with almost daily posts – Ang Sarap. That in itself is a feat because the voice behind it, Raymund, a fellow Filipino residing in New Zealand, is a working man whereas yours truly is currently bumming around (that’ll all change SOON) and I can’t even muster up the gumption to post frequently lately. His blog is filled with recipes I wouldn’t mind trying every single day, so early on I was sold.

Ang Sarap is currently hosting guest posts from food bloggers all around the world, and I’ve been fortunate enough to be part of that tight circle. My guest post is currently up on his site, so you might want to check it out.
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Before I left for Manila I made Boeuf Bourguignon for a cozy dinner among friends. A few hours prior, I was staring in front of the black hole that is my pantry, trying to figure out what to cook. I’ve been known to hoard ingredients that I don’t get to use often. So sifting through everything was a challenge. Making a simplified version of Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon was always at the back of my mind. The last time I made it was for Christmas lunch, which was a hit with the family.

This time, I stripped it down until I was left with the core ingredients of beef and wine, and whatever remotely related to bourguignon was left in the fridge and pantry found its way into the pan.
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(excerpt from the guest post)

But is what I made still Boeuf Bourguignon? I implore you to never second-guess this dish! Bourguignon or not, it’s still something incredibly special.

This still requires a few hours in the oven to cook, BUT if you ask me, I think cooking this in a pressure cooker for an hour would do the trick. I would do that eventually once I get my hands on a pressure cooker. Sometimes what we would do at home is to pressure cook the raw beef then place it in a container and just leave it in the fridge. When we need it for quick soups or stews, then it’s good to go!

I stumbled on a goldmine when I dotted the dish with butter before I placed it in the oven. Your kitchen will thank you. For a servant-less Filipino cook like me, this might as well be godsend. 

I wish I could make this dish soon but the tiny kitchen I have right now is making it a challenge. I’m still in the process of easing myself into this new lifestyle in the big city so you might notice that it’s been quiet here at THG lately. But because Manila’s food culture is amazing, you might see more of what I ate than what I cooked.

But for now, with a spoonful of nostalgia and homesickness, here it is….Boeuf Bourguignon 2.0
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An Easier Boeuf Bourguignon (serves 3 – 4)

  • 500 grams beef rib eye
  • 115 grams canned whole or sliced button mushroom
  • 1 large white onion, chopped
  • 1 beef broth cube dissolved in 1 ½ cup hot water
  • ¾ cup red wine (use wine that you would drink)
  • 6 bacon strips, roughly chopped
  • ½ tablespoon dried thyme
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3 teaspoons all purpose flour
  • Small cubes of butter

In a large nonstick pan, heat olive oil over medium heat then add the bacon. Fry until fat renders. Remove the bacon and set aside. Pat the beef dry with paper towels. Season one side with salt and pepper. Using tongs, place the rib eye on the pan, seasoned side down. Season with salt and pepper the side facing up. Cook both sides until it starts to brown. Remove from pan and set aside. In the same pan, sauté the onions until limp. Add the mushrooms and sauté for 30 more seconds. Using the spatula, nudge the onions and mushrooms to the sides of the pan, and then add back the beef and the bacon. Add the beef broth water and the wine. Season with thyme, salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle in the flour and gently mix everything together.

Preheat the oven to 200C. Place the pan in the oven and allow to cook for 2 – 3 hours or until beef is tender. Remove from the oven and adjust the taste to your preference. Serve warm with rice or buttered toast and enjoy!