Honey Chicken

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My eating habits scare me sometimes. Sometimes. I was too full for lunch at 12 because I ate breakfast at 10. Then at around 2pm, I thought I was glued to the bed watching NCIS reruns, but no, I craved for honey chicken. I just had to press the pause button.

Truth be told I just went with my gut on this one. There was no recipe, just inspiration from a few odds and ends, particularly the vivid taste of Lotus restaurant’s iconic honey chicken masterpiece, and the sauce I made a while back for the fried pork cutlets. And the end result was devoured in record time, even by my grandmother who, today, also told me that she tried my macaroni and cheese and thought it was “walang kwenta” (worthless). But hey, don’t take her word for it!!! The rest of my family defended me of course, so it’s probably just grandma’s isolated and skewed opinion (but don’t worry I still love her to bits).

The only thing I wished I could have done was to make some more because it was the first thing gone from the table during dinner. Yeah, they really liked it.
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Honey chicken (serves 4)

  • 1.5 kg chicken legs and thighs
  • 6 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
  • Half a head of garlic, minced
  • 1 240ml can pineapple juice
  • 5 teaspoons cornstarch, dissolved in 1 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 3 tablespoons white cane vinegar (apple cider vinegar works too)
  • A dash of cinnamon
  • 2 pieces star anise
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • ½ cup honey (or more, to taste)
  1. Heat 3 tablespoons vegetable oil in a nonstick pan over medium heat. Sear the chicken on both sides, until it begins to brown, around 5 – 10 minutes on each side. You might need to do this in batches.
  2. Make the sauce: Heat the remaining 3 tablespoons oil in a large sauce pan (large enough to hold the chicken pieces as well) over medium heat. Add the minced garlic and allow to fry until fragrant but not burnt. Add the pineapple juice and the cornstarch mixture. Mix well.
  3. Add the rest of the sauce ingredients and stir everything together over medium heat until the sauce thickens. Adjust the seasoning to your preference.
  4. Lower the heat and add in the chicken and cook, covered, for 30 – 45 minutes or until chicken is cooked tender.
  5. In the last 5 minutes of cooking, increase the heat to high and cook until the sauce has reduced, thickened and is slightly sticky. Frequently stir everything together to stop it from burning. When done remove from heat and serve warm. Enjoy!

Cream Cheese Mac & Cheese

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I think this simmering obsession started with a little plastic cup of instant mac and cheese mix. It was microwavable and ready in 3 minutes. I thought it tasted okay, nothing special, but since I didn’t have a benchmark for really really good macaroni and cheese, I didn’t really rely on first impressions.

I called it a “simmering” obsession because sometimes I scour recipes for inspiration, at the back of my head this image of that little plastic cup of microwavable mac and cheese always rears its ugly head. Sometimes I find myself in the middle of dinner, wishing I was eating macaroni and cheese instead. I know, it sounds strange coming from me, because I’m never one to regret dinner, unless I’m served liver of course.
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I’ve been going over recipes back and forth, knowing that there were still a few blocks of cream cheese sitting in the fridge almost ready to expire unless I make good use of them. There was an internal debate going on inside my head on whether I should cook the macaroni in the cheese sauce, or cook them separately then put it all together in the end. I decided on the latter, knowing too well my misfortune with under-cooked pasta. New Year’s Eve of 2011 saw me in the kitchen, pouring water every 10 minutes on a baking dish full of raw lasagna noodles which refused to cook, God knows why (because I’m an idiot probably). I learned my lesson and hopefully I’ll pass that little nugget of wisdom to my children, and they’ll pass it on the theirs, and so on, and so on. Of course google works, too.
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Anyway, I still had to google if Eden cheese is a universal Kraft product. Unfortunately, I think it’s not because it’s tailored for Filipino consumption. But don’t fret, I’d like to believe this is a standard recipe that welcomes substitutions – just don’t skip the cream cheese!

I would’ve liked this to have more cheese sauce, because c’mon, who doesn’t appreciate a lot of sauce? But as soon as it came out of the oven, I knew this would be good, and I was right. Dig in, and for good measure, help yourself to seconds and thirds. Well, I did.
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Cream Cheese Mac & Cheese (serves 6 – 8)

  • 300 grams macaroni
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup reserved starchy water used to cook the macaroni
  • ¾ cup grated Eden cheese
  • 1 225g bar cream cheese, softened and cubed
  • ½ tablespoon prepared mustard
  • Grated mozzarella cheese, for topping

Boil water in a pot. Add a little bit of vegetable oil, and a generous sprinkling of salt. Add the macaroni, and cook according to package directions. Stir occasionally to prevent pieces from sticking to the bottom. Reserve 1 cup of the starchy water for later use. Drain the macaroni and set aside.

In a saucepan, melt butter. Add the flour and stir everything together until a thick cohesive paste is formed (the roux). Add the milk and the water. Season it with salt and pepper. Stir until it thickens.

Add the mustard, Eden cheese, and most of the cream cheese. Save a few tiny cubes for topping. Mix everything together over low heat and allow the cheeses to melt. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180C.

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resist the urge to eat it straight from the pot

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It will be a thing of beauty

Carefully add in the macaroni, mixing everything to coat it with the sauce.Pour everything on a baking pan, and top it with mozzarella and dot it with the tiny cream cheese cubes.

Bake it in the oven for 15 – 20 minutes or until cheese is bubbling and caramel brown specks have started to appear.

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See?

Remove from oven and allow to cool for a few minutes. Serve warm and enjoy!

One-Pot Pork Asado Sticky Rice

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I know I’ve been quiet lately, but I have a perfectly good excuse (!): NCIS Los Angeles marathons have kept my mom and I up until 12 midnight, and my body clock is as functional as a log, which means I usually wake up late. I wake up so late that I can’t even process what I want to make for lunch, and thank god for the people living next door, because they’ve never failed to feed me. But there are plans, here and there. Sometimes before I sleep I think about what to make for the following day. I juggle a few recipes that have been sitting on my to-do pile for months now. Months. But…plans get lost in translation, life gets in the way and the real world needs me. Well, I need to get a hold on the real world. Am I being cryptic? Sorry, it’s just been a crazy couple of weeks.

When one of my best friends told me twice that she’s wondering why I haven’t posted anything in a while now, that’s when I know it’s a cause for concern. I was on the phone with her when we had the conversation. But after she told me that, I looked over my shoulder and there it was: a medium-sized pot with steam trying to waft out. Rice was cooking, slowly taking in the different sauces that made up the liquid, the tender pork cubes (YES EVERYONE I’M POSTING PORK AGAIN!) becoming even more tender, and that tiny hint of five spice wraps it all together.
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I was inspired by the smell and taste of pork asado, the filling that I like in my siopao. While watching NCIS, sometimes I also blurt out what I’d give to have a nice bowl of adobo rice with me, so it’s been on my mind lately.

There’s this heavy snack/meal (notice how I can blur the lines between the two), called “Matchang” (not to be confused with matcha green tea powder) that is essentially sticky/glutinous rice (malagkit), flavored with soy sauce and other chinese spices, with meat and a hard-boiled egg, wrapped in a banana leaf.

I think what I made is like matchang, without the banana leaf, and I’m more generous with the pork. Of course that makes sense. But anyway, this is just to remind all of you that I’m still here, and I’ll always be around. With lots of pork recipes in tow.
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Pork Asado Sticky Rice (serves 4 – 6)

Remember to cook the rice in a pot that can easily hold double the amount of rice you put in. Rice is crazy like that.

  • ½ kg pork belly, cubed
  • 1 ½ cups water, to boil the pork
  • 1 – 2 chinese canton sausages, sliced
  • 6 tablespoons oyster sauce
  • 4 – 5 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine
  • 1 286-gram can shiitake mushrooms (or use fresh ones), halved
  • 2 cups uncooked plain rice
  • 1 cup uncooked glutinous rice (malagkit)
  • 1/4 teaspoon Chinese five spice powder
  • 5 cups water
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  1. In a pot, place the pork, sausage and add the water. Allow to boil on medium heat.
  2. When the water has almost evaporated and the pork is tender, add the shiitake mushrooms, soy sauce, rice wine and oyster sauce. Mix to coat the pork with the sauces.
  3. Add the rice, five spice powder and the water. Sprinkle it with salt and freshly cracked black pepper.
  4.  Cook over low heat, covered, for 30 – 40 minutes or until rice has absorbed the liquid and has cooked through. Serve warm and enjoy!

Lemon and Pepper Chicken

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If there was a battle between lemons and calamansi (the small native Philippine lime), I’d be rooting for the lemon. My friends think it’s strange that I don’t like calamansi, considering that I’m Filipino. Sometimes when we’re eating out, and we would be given tiny saucers so we can make our own dip out of soy sauce, vinegar and calamansi, they would grab my pieces without hesitation. What’s exactly my beef with this little defenseless humble lime? Well, I would always rationalize that this ‘loathing’ doesn’t have any rationalization. I just don’t like it. But maybe, if I need to give concrete insight, maybe the calamansi’s citrus scent doesn’t appeal to me, the way the fresh clean lemon scent does.

The lemon’s scent and acidity lend themselves well with chicken. I decided to make this on the fly because people were coming over (another story altogether, sorry if I’m being evasive!), and I was supposed to serve this to them, but the chicken ended up wrapped in foil for  them to take home. The first batch ended up pretty dry but still flavorful, probably because I left them too long in the oven. As soon as the chicken hits the one hour mark, that’s when my paranoia sinks in, because I still want the chicken to be moist. I think I achieved it with the second batch (the ones pictured), because it tasted just the way I imagined it to be  - the fresh tartness of the lemon absorbed by the meat, with delicate, paper-thin skin, and yes, it’s flavorful down to the bones.

But of course if you’re a calamansi purist, I see no reason why you can’t use it instead of the lemons. But if you do have lemons lying around, well, you know what to do.

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Lemon and Pepper Chicken (serves 6 – 8)

  • chicken leg and thigh, 6 pieces each
  • juice of 3 lemons
  • 1 – 2 tablespoons mustard
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • a generous dash of freshly cracked black pepper, around 2 -3 tablespoons
  • 1 – 2 tablespoons salt (or more, to taste)
  1. Combine the marinade ingredients in a bowl large enough to hold the chicken. Add in the chicken and marinate for at least an hour, preferably overnight.
  2. When ready to bake, pre-heat the oven to 200 C. Arrange the chicken pieces in a baking pan, preferably with a rack, with the bottom of the pan lined with foil to catch the drippings.
  3. Place the pan in the oven and bake for an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes. flipping halfway. Bake until chicken’s skin is golden brown and the meat is done.
  4. When done, remove from oven and serve warm. Enjoy!

Baked Binagoongan

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The fact that most of my blog posts reveal my proclivity with pork could be a cause for concern. Could be. I do miss the days when I’d have most of the morning or the afternoon to myself, the kitchen in a total frenzy, and the smell of freshly baked bread, or even cupcakes filling up my nostrils. It’s been a while. Maybe a self-imposed exile from posting anything purely pork would do me (and my arteries) some good.
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But for today, since I do have to post this, I’m going to be indulgent. Pork punctuates my idea of a Filipino celebration. That’s relative and subjective, of course, since there are Filipinos who don’t eat pork. But from my neck of the woods, lechon spells something grand, estofado means a day is special, dinuguan implies a prelude to lechon, and so forth. It’s only fitting that since this month’s Kulinarya Club theme is a meal fit for a celebration (during a fiesta or Santacruzan), it has to be something made with pork.

It worried me that I couldn’t really think of anything regional in time for the reveal date. I was supposed to go for Arroz Valenciana, a cousin of the paella and bringhe, except that it doesn’t use annatto seeds (paella) or turmeric (bringhe) for color. But time was limited and I couldn’t get my grandmother to teach me since she thinks herself busy.

Improvisation works, because I did manage to whip up something festive that doesn’t need a lot of preparation. During fiestas in our house, preparations are physically taxing. Any dish that can be baked is a winner in my book, and when I thought about making pork binagoongan, it just made sense.
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Pork Binagoongan, a dish where pork is cooked with salty bagoong gata (shrimp paste coconut milk) and tomatoes, isn’t really a typical dish found at the table during our fiestas. It’s comfort food, more than anything. But I couldn’t get it out of my head and I knew I was on to something.
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The flavor comes from the marinade, which has bagoong gata in it. You might want to add more of the bagoong if you want a full-bodied taste, not just a hint. I have to admit that I might have scrimped on the bagoong a tiny bit, because I didn’t want it too salty, but in the end I realized that I needed to be generous with the marinade. Also, letting it marinate overnight is key. The taste of oven-roasted tomatoes is really something else, and since binagoongan usually has tomatoes, it was the best of both worlds. Tomatoes and basil also go well together…and well, it was the icing on the cake. Baked pork is also a treat in itself, with perfectly tender meat with fat that almost melts in your mouth.

Seriously, this dish gave me a lot of reasons to celebrate.
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Baked Binagoongan (serves 4)

  • 1 kg pork belly (OR 1 kg chicken legs and thighs)
  • 10 medium-sized tomatoes, quartered
marinade
  • 8 – 10 (slightly) heaping tablespoons bagoong gata (shrimp paste with coconut milk)*
  • 1 whole garlic head, roughly chopped
  • 5 – 10 fresh sweet basil leaves, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup white cane vinegar
  • a dash of salt
  • freshly cracked pepper, to taste
  1. In a bowl large enough to hold the pork, combine the marinade ingredients. Add the pork and allow to marinate for at least an hour, preferably overnight. 
  2. Preheat the oven to 220 C. When ready to bake, carefully add the tomatoes to the marinade and lightly toss to coat them. 
  3. Arrange the pork in a roasting pan, preferably with a rack. Arrange the tomatoes along the sides of the pan and a few on top of the pork. Bake for 1 hour – 1 hour and 10 minutes. After around 40 minutes of baking, turn it halfway. Bake until done. Photobucket 
  4. Slice the pork into bite-sized pieces and serve warm with rice and possibly, more bagoong. Enjoy! 
*The bagoong I used was Montano’s Ginisang Bagoong Gata, which we bought from their main store when we were in Dipolog. That has to count as something ‘regional’, right? 

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Honey Rosemary Pork + 10 facts

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OK, digressing from my spiel, I think it’s good to inject a little bit of cheese into the blog. The Food and Wine Hedonist (and his other persona, Sir Mix-a-Lotta-Ingredients [did I get that right man? haha!] awarded me a ‘Kreativ Blogger’ badge, along with a few instructions. I don’t really pay attention to user-generated blog awards, but I might as well indulge it this time since, honestly, I can’t really say a lot about today’s recipe except to say that it’s incredibly delicious.

Since I accepted the award, here are 10 facts about me:

1. My name is Gio. Yeah, that’s a fact. I’m an only child, so I have issues (wink)

2. I used to be incredibly overweight growing up! ‘Used to’, because it was in college that I began losing weight. But it’s been a constant struggle ever since. Constant. Struggle.

3. I love pork fat. I love pork. You might find this disgusting but vivid childhood memories of me eating would mean requesting that my rice should be liberally drizzled with my ‘special sauce’ — COOKING OIL! (The oil used to fry the pork or bacon of course!).

4. My friends can vouch for this: I suck at math. Computing simple change, is my downfall.

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5. I blink more times than the average person.

6. I hate hate hate eating liver and other innards. I have this sudden urge to vomit when I do taste liver. To illustrate, I once walked out of a family dinner when they didn’t tell me that the dinuguan (blood stew) had liver and I accidentally had a spoonful of it.

7. When I’m pissed at someone, or when I have this sudden urge to stab/murder somebody but can’t, I snap my fingers.

8. I have a potty mouth. People have word crutches and default responses when they’re shocked, scared, happy, angry etc. Well, I cuss. And this bad mannerism also rears its ugly head during inappropriate occasions, like…during birthday parties when we’re about to pray.

9. If it’s not a dog, I’ll probably end up killing my ‘pet of the moment’.  First it was fish, and my teeny aquarium held more than the usual number. They didn’t survive. Next it was rabbits. I probably force-fed them to the point of obesity, and well, they lived a miserable life. Right now I have a two year-old dog, and she’s alive and well. (Praise!)

10. Since I told you that it’s a constant struggle to maintain my weight, I usually jog in the late afternoon. After a heavy meal for lunch. Then I’d have a heavy meal for dinner. Constant. Struggle.

So, there you have it. If you have any other questions you’d like me to answer, just leave a comment and if it’s not inappropriate, I might get back to you. :)
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On to the recipe: this was conceived the day before Mother’s Day, when I was daydreaming about baking pork until the fat caramelizes and becomes extremely rich and gooey. I can’t really say anything else. It was perfect. We loved it. It’s the stuff dreams are made of.
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Honey Rosemary Pork (serves 6 – 8)

2 kg pork (shoulder, belly or chops)

marinade for every 1 kg:

  • ½ cup soy sauce
  • ¼  cup honey
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tbsp molasses
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • Rosemary leaves from two 4-inch sprigs
  1. Combine the marinade ingredients in a bowl large enough to hold the meat.
  2. Add the pork and ensure that each piece is evenly coated with the marinade. Place in the refrigerator and let it marinate overnight.
  3. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 220 C.
  4. Arrange the pork on a baking pan, preferably with a rack to let the fat drip. Bake in the preheated oven for 50 minutes – 1 hour, turning halfway.
  5. When done, remove from the over and allow to rest for around 3 – 5 minutes. Slice into bite-sized serving pieces and serve with rice. Enjoy!

Pancit Guisado

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There’s no excuse for it, so I might as well just put it out there: I’ve been deliberately avoiding my blog. I haven’t been in the kitchen for a while, my posting schedule is pretty much zilch, and…well, I didn’t really care. I think, or at least I’d like to believe that every writer/blogger has gone through a period where…inspiration isn’t really there. You feel parched, tired and done for. Does that sound familiar?

A few things first:

1. I finished reading The Millennium trilogy (ie The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and its sequels) and, I am experiencing withdrawal symptoms. Stieg Larsson just has this ability to draw you in, and I was sucked into a ‘happy’ black hole for a while, hence I took a respite from hardcore writing.

2. My barbecue craving hasn’t abated yet, so watch out for more barbecue dishes soon! (If the grilled pieces of pork and chicken haven’t been the death of me yet!)

3. At least three people wanted to send me herbs, but since international shipping is pricey, it’ll only remain a dream. This is still an invitation to any Filipino living in the Philippines, who might be interested in helping a fella out. (wink)

Anyway, am I back in motion? Hopefully. If there’s one thing I learned from my retreat, it’s that hope is a powerful word. So here I am, hoping for the best.

April rolled by and the first day of May came as a surprise for me. The Kulinarya Club holds a monthly challenge with a specific theme, and strangely enough I only knew of the April theme when the other members started posting their works. It turns out the notice got lost in the mail, so before I jump into the May challenge, here is my attempt at ‘Filipino Food Truck Fare’, brought to you by Louie and Nathan. The premise is that food from a food truck is portable and easy-to-eat, since apparently food trucks have a huge following in the US.
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When I was reviewing for my boards, the university’s newly renovated two-story cafeteria was opened. It was a far cry from the two small cramped canteens that served the entire campus. The cafeteria now had a reasonable number of food stalls that served ‘decent’ to ‘great’ food, depending on what stall you choose to buy from. There’s this one stall that serves ‘great’ dimsum - siomai (steamed or friend), rolls,  and fried rice and noodles. I go there for the siomai and the noodles, or sometimes both, because if I order the friend noodles, there’s always a siomai or two resting on top.

Observing how they put together the fried noodles is pretty straightforward. Pre-boiled/softened egg noodles have been measured and placed in small individual plastic containers. When somebody orders, all they have to do is get a container, dump the noodles on the pan with oil, then add a little bit of what I assume to be a soy sauce mixture, mix it all together, place it in a small serving bowl, and top it with siomai. That method can easily mesh with the whole dynamic of a food truck, because it’s easy and makes so much sense.
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I tried to bring back that ‘noodle love’ by making a simplified version of pancit guisado. Guisado in our context means ‘sautéed‘, and there’s a lot of it going on here. This is Chinese-Filipino happiness on a plate. The taste actually reminds me of the pancit canton of a popular fast food chain here in the Philippines that may or may not be called Chowking.

Oh, and we didn’t have any cardboard takeout boxes, so for a moment, let’s just imagine these ceramic bowls are light as a feather.
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Pancit Guisado (serves 1 – 2)

  • 100 grams dried pancit canton noodles
  • 5 – 6 pieces medium-sized prawns (deveined, head and shell removed), each sliced into 3 – 4 small pieces
  • half a medium-sized carrot, sliced thinly
  • 100 – 150 grams pork belly, sliced into bite sized cubes
  • ¼ cup water
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • half a garlic bulb, minced
  • 2 small red onions, sliced
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • spring onions, sliced, for garnish
  1. Cook the noodles in a pot of boiling water. The noodles may cook fast, around 1 – 2 minutes. Drain and set aside.
  2. Cook the pork pieces by placing it in a frying pan and adding the water. Let the water boil and cook the pork until the water dries up, pork starts to toast, and fat begins to render. Add the 1/4 cup soy sauce and cook until tender. Set aside.
  3. In a pan, heat oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and onions. Saute until fragrant. Add the carrots and fry until slightly tender.
  4. Add the soy sauce, hoisin sauce, and the prawns. Mix everything together and cook until prawns are pink, around a minute or two. Add the pork belly and noodles.
  5. Mix everything together and fry for another 30 seconds. When done, remove from pan and serve in individual bowls or in a takeout box for that full effect. Garnish with the spring onions and serve. Enjoy!

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