Spicy Prawn Curry with Roasted Tomatoes

Photobucket

For the past few weeks Fridays have come to mean more than just the American Idol results show and the day where torrent files of my favorite shows come out. I took it upon myself to observe the season of Lent and abstain from eating meat and eat only one full meal every Friday until Easter, among other “restraints”.

Have I been faithful? No, I have taken afternoon snacks so adhering to one full meal has been difficult. Right now typing this, my stomach’s grumbling. Aside from that one Friday where it slipped my mind, I have been trying to avoid pork, chicken and beef. Self-discipline isn’t really one of my strong suits. Probably one of my fatal flaws, but nonetheless I’m proud of myself. Restraining myself, exerting a little measure of discipline during this season, is something that I’ve been trying to do. My cross is heavy but I’m trying to hold on.
Photobucket

Lent is a season of reflection, of going beyond your usual call of duty and examine yourself in relation to how you treat yourself and others. At least that’s how I see Lent. I don’t claim to know everything about my faith – but I know it’s not perfect. Sometimes my roots are parched – the leaves wilt and fall, and what exactly I need to do about it, makes me wonder even more. But time and time again, my belief in a higher being will never die, no matter how misguided I can be.
Photobucket

What does the prawn/shrimp* curry have to do with everything? Well, this is just my way of exercising that “restraint” without purposely depriving myself to the point of punishment.
Photobucket

Have you ever tried to roast tomatoes? Try it, you won’t be disappointed. Have you ever tried to roast garlic? It was my first time to do that today, and I knew I had to put a few tender garlicky segments into the curry, just because I love garlic.
Photobucket

I still had a little container of garam masala in the pantry from my chicken korma escapade. I didn’t want it to go to waste. Making this wasn’t a stretch at all. As much as I appreciate a spicy curry, the people around here don’t. A few dashes of chili flakes gave it the heat that it needed. To offset it, aside from the coconut milk, I added a few spoonfuls of peanut butter to give it that subtle sweet creaminess.
Photobucket

A spoonful of this will give a gentle sweetness that  mingles with the bold curry taste, then there is that unmistakable heat that still lingers at the back of your mouth. The roasted tomatoes do their part by offering a sweet tang that gloriously blends with everything else. And there’s nothing wrong with mashing a few pieces of garlic directly into the sauce. Nothing wrong that at all.

Thank God it’s Friday.
Photobucket

Spicy Prawn Curry with Roasted Tomatoes  (serves 4 – 6)

*Prawns and shrimps are semantically different but can be used interchangeably, though prawns are larger than shrimps. I used prawns for this recipe, but like you, I’m used to saying ‘shrimps’, big or small. That’s OK. I guess. 

  • 200 ml coconut milk
  • half a garlic bulb, minced
  • 1 large white onion, sliced
  • 15 – 20 pieces medium-sized prawns, peeled and deveined.
  • a few pieces of the prawn heads, the sharp pointy things (it’s called a rostrum) and whiskers snipped
  • 1 – 2 tablespoons garam masala
  • a few dashes red chili flakes
  • 2 tablespoons peanut butter
  • 1/2 tablespoon turmeric powder
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 – 5 pieces roasted garlic segments (optional)
  • a few pieces roasted tomatoes 
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  1. Prepare the roasted tomatoes. If you want to roast the garlic, roast it will the tomatoes. I slice around 1/4 inch off the top of the garlic bulb to expose the flesh, then drizzle it with olive oil, salt and pepper. 
  2. In a pan, heat both oils over medium heat. When hot, add the onions, then the garlic. Saute until fragrant. 
  3. Add the coconut milk, then the shrimps heads. Lower the heat to low. Add the garam masala, turmeric, chili flakes and peanut butter. Season with salt and pepper. Adjust taste, color and consistency to your liking. 
  4. Add the roasted garlic and mash with your spoon to incorporate. 
  5. Add the shrimps/prawns and crank up the heat to medium, and cook until both sides turn orange in color, around 3 – 5 minutes. Remove the shrimp heads. 
  6. Add the roasted tomatoes at the last second and mix well. Remove from heat and serve. Enjoy! 

Chinese Style Crispy Pork Belly

My last post has only been a few days ago, but I’ve always been accustomed to my daily routine of visiting my blog, seeing my site stats, cleaning my google reader by visiting other food blogs, that a few days without a lot of blog activity from my end seems like forever. Not really forever, a hundred years perhaps.

But I do have good reason for being strangely inactive – I have a new job! Well, like my old one, it’s only part-time, two months tops, but right now, this new responsibility keeps me busy. The workload is pretty intense despite my short stint,  so the past few days have seen me adjust and push blogging to the backseat. This is really because food blogging takes a lot of time and energy – from editing photos, encoding/editing recipes to creating the story. It’s time and energy I need to exhaust elsewhere, because I desperately need money and food blogging doesn’t really pay the bills. And man does not live off his mom alone.

Since I don’t get to channel every ounce of energy into cooking, blogging, and eating (ehem), I just really hope I can still churn out great attempts at cooking. BUT I’M HERE and I’M BLOGGING!
Photobucket

Over the weekend I did get to cook pure awesomeness for my grandma’s birthday.

Let me tell you about my grandma: she’s eccentric, loud, incredibly thrifty and, dare I say it, an amazing homemaker, cook and baker. She defied the odds by proving that you don’t have to be a victim of your past and circumstance. Born into poverty and without making it past the 6th grade, together with my grandfather, she managed to build a name for herself in the direct sales industry, send her children, including my mother, to school, and pretty much pave the way for a good, secure future for her children and their children. You can’t really do that without determination and intelligence. One time my mom hinted that if grandma would have just finished her education, she would be smarter than all her children put together.

Growing up with her, she would be quick to declare my laurels to anyone who would listen. Embarrassing, really.

According to her, it’s a fact that all her grandchildren are good singers and dancers. Well, I beg to digress but that’s not really the point. My mom always tells me that she’s proud of all her grandchildren.
Photobucket

Because she’s Chinese and I’m extremely subtle, I made her a Chinese-style oven baked roast pork belly with the crackling. This was a gargantuan achievement for me because Grandma (and the whole family) enjoyed it and was amazed at how the skin was so crispy like chicharon. I got this from Christine’s Recipes, a food blog dedicated to Asian cuisine.
Photobucket

This recipe reminds me of two things: 1. this tastes exactly like Lutong Macau’s roast pork belly and 2. the aroma really reminds of the food courts and restaurants in Hong Kong and Macau, which makes sense because Chinese five-spice is an essential spice to have in Chinese and Macanese cuisine.

Watching the skin silently crackle and explode in the oven, from little tiny bubbles to full-blown crispy crackling, is an amazing sight. The trick here is to get the skin really dry.
Photobucket

This is something best reserved for a weekend lunch with the family. In order for you to get this on the table by lunch time, start at around 9:00 AM because cooking times may vary depending on how large the pork belly is. Forget the lechon kawali, because this is so much better and less oily because it’s baked, albeit still fatty.  And trust me, this is magnificence on a plate that really deserves a place at the table.
Photobucket

Chinese Style Crispy Pork Belly/Siew Yuk (adapted from Christine’s Recipes; serves 6 – 8)

  • 2.5 kg pork belly
  • 1 Tbsp Shaoxing wine, optional
  • to taste, rock salt
seasoning:
  • 6 – 7 teaspoons salt
  • 4 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon five-spice powder
  • 4 teaspoons freshly cracked black pepper
  1. To prepare the seasonings: Combine salt with sugar, pepper and five-spice powder well. Set aside.
  2. Use a knife to scrape away any impurities and hair. Rinse thoroughly.
  3. Blanch in boiling water for about 20 minutes, until around 70% done, and the skin is softened. I used a large wok and filled 1/4 of it with water. I carefully placed the pork belly in, and to make sure that the meat is fully submerged in water, I just added a glass or two as needed and allowed it to boil. Photobucket
  4. Drain well and wipe dry with paper towels.
  5. Place the belly on a large platter or tray, meat side up and skin side down
  6. Use a knife to make a few small slits on the meat and up the sides but not on the skin, so the seasoning will be absorbed better.
  7. Evenly brush the meat with the rice wine (optional). Let it rest for around 20 – 30 minutes.
  8. Coat the meat BUT NOT THE SKIN with seasoning mixture, otherwise, the five-spice will darken the skin.Photobucket
  9. Flip the meat so the skin is now facing upwards.
  10. Using thick kitchen towels, evenly pat the skin dry. This is important so the skin can properly crisp up.Photobucket
  11. Using a small knife with a sharp tip OR fondue forks, gently poke the skin to make little holes all over the skin. Christine recommends not exerting too much force that the holes have gone through deep into the fat. But still, you can go crazy poking holes all over. During this time, preheat the oven to 200 C/395 F if you intend to cook it immediately.Photobucket
  12. Pat dry the skin a second time, making sure that there is no visible moisture left behind. Alternatively, you can also wrap the meat, but not the skin, with foil and leave it to dry inside the refrigerator overnight. I didn’t do this but the skin was still really crispy and the meat flavorful. Leaving it overnight however, most probably intensifies the flavor.
  13. When ready to cook, place the belly in a large roasting rack lined with aluminum foil to catch the drippings. Pour around ¼ cup water onto the foil so when the drippings will fall, it will not burn.
  14. Evenly season the rind with rock salt.Photobucket
  15. Bake in the preheated oven for about one hour to one hour and ten minutes.
  16. Turn the heat dial to ‘broil’ and roast for another 20 minutes, or until the rind has sufficiently and evenly crackled. Photobucket
  17. At this point you may notice that some parts of the skin appear to have charred too much. DO NOT PANIC. You can easily remove the charred bits by scraping it with a knife.Photobucket
  18. When done, remove from oven, chop it into your desired serving sizes – cubes or strips and serve warm with rice, with soy sauce and vinegar on the side. Enjoy!

Chicken Korma + Homemade Garam Masala

Today’s the day before Ash Wednesday and aside from that, “International Chicken Korma Day”. I just made that last part up, for lack of other uninteresting things to say. So let me just get right to it.

I got this recipe from Rasa Malaysia, an Asian food blog that I’ve been following for quite some time now, really because I consider it one of the best Asian food blogs out there. Bee Yinn Low, the woman behind RM, brings together cuisines from almost every nook and cranny in Asia – even the occasional Filipino delicacy.
Photobucket

Since I’m still building myself up as an amateur cook, it makes perfect sense to try to expand my repertoire with dishes from the Asian neighbors. And today I made my first “almost authentic” Indian dish.

I’ll be the first to admit that since Filipino cooking is not heavy on exotic spices (think cardamom, coriander, cinnamon, cumin…), sometimes the aromas of Indian (and also Muslim) cuisine, because of their lack of subtlety, can be off-putting. But of course, I’m one that enjoys the spice and heat that comes with the territory. In moderation, it’s not really a problem with me.

Most of the Philippines is familiar with Chicken Curry, and Korma is essentially a curry, but according to Rasa Malaysia, “Korma, also spelled as Khurma or Kurma, is a milder form of curry and is distinguished from other curries by its rich gravy and smooth texture, mainly because of its heavy incorporation of yogurt as part of its main ingredients.”
Photobucket

Here in Zamboanga, a virtual melting pot of cultures, predominantly Christian but with a strong Muslim presence (partially because of its proximity to Malaysia) we are familiar with the kulma, and what I made approximates the familiar taste of what we know as curry laden with the trademark spices.
Photobucket

This doesn’t have curry powder because the recipe called for Garam Masala. Because I didn’t check with our local delicatessen if they had it in stock, well, I made my own spice mix thanks to the wonders of the internet. It’s not difficult as long as you have the ingredients on hand. Heck, it’ll be easier to buy it from a generously stocked grocery, but I went the extra mile today because I had to.
Photobucket

I say this a lot with my dishes, but I can really imagine myself making this again because it tastes great. Like estofado, I enjoyed eating the korma knowing that the “soup” or sauce has almost dried out, envelopes the tender chicken pieces and has become almost gravy-like. Well, that’s just me.

“Almost authentic Indian” aptly describes what I made today, and really, you either go big or go home. With my homemade garam masala, I guess I’m not going anywhere anytime soon.

Chicken Korma (Chicken in Rich Yogurt Curry) (serves 4 – 6; adapted from Rasa Malaysia)

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 kg chicken leg and thighs, cut into pieces
  • 4 tablespoons oil
  • a dash of cinnamon
  • 4 cardamons
  • 4 cloves
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 8 black peppercorns, lightly crushed
  • 1/2 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 1/2 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 3 – 4 tablespoons liquid seasoning (or more, to taste)
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce (optional; that’s why I called it “almost authentic”)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Marinade:

  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons Garam Masala (recipe follows)
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder or paprika
  • 1 cup (250ml) plain yogurt, lightly whipped
  • 3/4 – 1 cup coconut milk (I had a 200ml tetra pack so I used that)
  • 2 large red onions, sliced and fried

Method:

  1. Marinate chicken with Marinade ingredients for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
  2. Heat up wok with 2 1/2 tablespoons oil, stir-fry the items listed under Ingredients, except liquid seasoning, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper and let the whole spices to sizzle a bit until fragrant.
  3. Toss in the marinated chicken (with the marinade) and continue to stir-fry for 10 minutes. Add the liquid seasoning, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Turn heat to medium-low, cover the wok and cook for 40 – 60 minutes, or until the oil slightly separates, chicken is tender enough and you have achieved the gravy consistency that you prefer. You may add water if the sauce dries too quickly and if the chicken is still not cooked through.
  5. Season with salt and pepper. When done, remove from heat and serve with rice. Enjoy!

Photobucket

Garam Masala (makes around 1/2 cup)

  • 2 tablespoons coriander seeds
  • 2 tablespoons whole cardamom pods
  • 2 tablespoons whole black pepper corns
  • 1 teaspoon whole cloves
  • 2 tablespoons ground cumin seed
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  1. In a skillet or a nonstick pan, over medium low heat, add the whole spices – coriander, cardamom, black peppercorns, cloves. Allow to toast for about 10 minutes until they take on a darker shade. You may stir it occasionally.
  2. When done, combine the toasted spices with the ground ones – cinnamon, nutmeg,  cumin in a mortar and pestle. Pound until the whole spices have been crushed and the mixture has become one cohesive powder. You may use a food processor or a coffee grinder.
  3. When done, store it in a dry container. You don’t have to put it in the refrigerator. It will keep for 3 months.

If you’re in Zamboanga and you’re thinking of doing this, I bought my cardamom from La Tienda (call them if they have it in stock) and the coriander from the spice and candy store near Mindpro’s grocery entrance, beside Bloomingdale’s. All the other spices can be found in the spice aisle of Mindpro’s grocery. 

Cinnamon Rolls

Before I made my first cake I baked my first bread. Even before my first bread, I made my first bao/siopao. So I introduced myself to yeast early on in my life as a food blogger. The orthodox ladder of progression must have been lost in the mail.
Photobucket

The first batch of cinnamon rolls I made a month or two ago, had the texture of day old bread. Suffice to say I was disappointed so that made me lay off making rolls for a while. So maybe starting haphazardly has its disadvantages.

After more than a week of silence (I went on a little trip) I finally went back to the kitchen and baked. I made the mistake of forgetting when the yeast sitting at the back of the fridge was going to expire, so over the next few days and weeks you will hopefully see me churning out yeast inspired magic. Tall order, I know.

I was skeptical at first. I didn’t know if the yeast would froth (the indicator that yeast is still viable). I knew the froth had to resemble copious amounts of beer foam, but the description said as long as the top bubbles, it’s still usable. And bubble it did.

Photobucket

The original recipe called for cream cheese frosting, but I didn’t have any cream cheese on hand. But the first bite into these morsels managed to make me forget all about it. These didn’t taste like day-old bread at all (!).
Photobucket

The verdict: it tastes like how I imagined a great cinnamon roll to taste like – a soft whisper of a crust, giving way to the warm, soft, pillow-y interior. The filling perfectly buttery, with just the right amount of cinnamon. It made perfect sense.
Photobucket

You can add the cream cheese glaze, nuts and raisins, even apples to the filling, but these rolls stand alone perfectly. I’m not sure if it’s the monsoon season here in the Philippines but we have been having rain showers for days now. A batch of warm toasty cinnamon rolls with a cup of hot chocolate would be your best friend on a lazy, cold afternoon.
Photobucket

Cinnamon Rolls (makes 12 – 13 rolls; adapted from yummy.ph)

For the dough

  • 1 (1/4-ounce) package OR 2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1 cup warm milk
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt

For the filling

  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons cinnamon
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup butter, cubed and softened
  1. In the bowl, dissolve yeast in warm milk. (If you have an electric mixer, you can do this in its bowl). Leave for 5 minutes.
  2. Add sugar, butter, and eggs. Using a hand mixer fitted with the dough hook (or the electric mixer), run the mixer on low speed to stir the mixture.
  3. Gradually add flour and salt, and knead until mixture forms a smooth, elastic dough, about 20 to 30 minutes. I used the dough hook to “knead” it for a while, then placed it on a floured surface and knead it by hand. It took some time but patience is key.
    Photobucket
  4. Place dough in a greased bowl. Cover with cling wrap and leave in a warm place. Allow dough to rise until double in size; about 1 hour.
  5. Punch dough to release air then transfer to a work surface. Roll dough into a rectangle (24-inch – long, 16-inch-wide, about 1/4-inch-thick).

    Photobucket

    uhm, yeaaah, that looks about right. ;)

  6. Make the filling: Combine brown sugar and cinnamon in a bowl and mix well.
  7. Using a spatula, spread softened butter evenly over the dough then sprinkle the surface with the cinnamon-sugar filling.PhotobucketPhotobucket
  8. Roll dough tightly into a log. With the seam side down, cut the dough into 2-inch slices. Place on a greased baking pan, or a pan lined with a silicone baking mat, 2 inches apart. Allow dough to rise until double in size, about 30 minutes.Photobucket
    Photobucket
  9. Bake the rolls in an oven preheated to 375 F/190 C for about 12 to 15 minutes or until golden. Place on a wire rack to cool slightly. Serve warm and enjoy!

Completely unrelated:

I came home from Manila with a handful of things to help me out in the kitchen: two nice cookbooks, a brand new silpat (which you can see in the pictures), useful kitchen utensils and, wait for it, placemats. I use these when I’m taking photographs of the food I make and it really helps. Scouring the discount aisles at The Landmark for placemats made me feel like a child again. (haha)

Photobucket