A Working Girl’s Mapo Tofu Don

I started writing this entry with the words “When I think of home…” and started laughing.  Because in my head I started singing “…I think of a place where there’s love overflowing…”  If you don’t know the song I’m singing, well, your musical education isn’t as good as you think it is.  Well, either that or you weren’t alive in the 80’s (that’s when I first saw it, on RPN9 on a Saturday evening), or you’ve never heard of The Wiz.  It’s the Michael Jackson-Diana Ross adaptation of The Wizard of Oz.

And as usual, I digress!

I miss home and the little comforts that are so close (that or I can easily jump into the family car–our trusty Revo–and drive to where I want to go get things).  I miss having nail bars everywhere, I miss Ditas of David’s Salon in SM Fairview who does my hair perfectly, I miss Starbucks and the occasional green tea latte frap, I miss tocino, Purefoods corned beef.  I miss eating at the eat-all-you-can lunches (and dinners) of Saisaki (although, it may not be the same now), I miss the shawarma place in Fairlane (also in Fairview), I miss Mercury Drug (because buying things over the counter is sometimes quicker).  I miss my Tita Rescy’s cafe called Indulgence on…(argh! I can’t remember!) Perea.  I miss Ineng’s barbecue and I miss Teriyaki Boy!  Apart from their sushi, I miss their mapo tofu don.

Mapo tofu was one of the first dishes that I learned to replicate when I moved to the UK.  I loved it a lot (I think it loved me too, because I KNOW I gained weight because I ate a lot of mapo tofu don from Teriyaki Boy) and missed it so much that I looked for a recipe and searched for ingredients.  I can now, and I say this with absolute confidence, whip up mapo tofu in minutes.  I now have what I call the working girl’s version of this wonderful tofu-pork-black bean sauce dish.  It’s quick, and really easy.  I also like to think that it’s really healthy (because of the tofu! :)).  And all the ingredients are things you can get at the supermarket!

Ingredients:
Serves 4 people

  • 1 block soft tofu (about 350g), drained and diced
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 500g minced pork
  • 1 Blue Dragon black bean stirfry sauce packet
  • 2-3 spring onions, sliced into thin diagonals and separate the white sections from the green leafier bits
  • 1 packet coriander chopped finely
  • 1-2 teaspoons chili oil (depending on how hot you want it, you can include the chili paste at the bottom of the jar)
  • 1 pork stock cube (I use Knorr)
  • 2 teaspoons light soy sauce
  • Salt to taste

Directions:

  1. Heat oil in the pan and brown minced pork.  Add blackbean stirfry sauce and pork stock cube.  Allow to simmer for 3 minutes.
  2. Add chili oil (and paste, if you want it hot, hot, hot!) and allow to simmer for 3 minutes.
  3. Add the chopped white sections fo the spring onions, the soy sauce and two-thirds of the coriander.  Add salt to taste (I like to make it salty, according to my taste as the tofu hasn’t been added to the pork mince at this stage).
  4. Add the diced tofu and mix gently, making sure the tofu isn’t mashed but is distributed well.  Allow to simmer for 5 mins.
  5. Serve over a bowl of steamed rice.

Wannabe Domestic Goddess Pancakes

When I was growing up, hotcakes, or pancakes, were a breakfast staple.  For some reason, my mom would almost always cook them on a Saturday.  It was pancakes out of a packet but I thought it was the bees’ knees!  How my mom could make so many pancakes from one egg and a smallish looking packet of dry ingredients was beyond me.  I think all you had to add was either water or fat…I can’t remember now.  But I know that the brands we used to have at home were Maya and White King.  Eventually we did try to use Pillsbury…but I think Maya or White King was still the best.

When I was older, and fancied myself the capable cook, I experimented and tried making apple pancakes.  It was a DISASTER with a capital D.  My baby sister, Duckie, was ever so polite and she said it was okay…I don’t know if she remembers that day, but it was the first time I had given Duckie something to eat that she didn’t immediately finish (well that and anything aubergine!)!  So for a while I stopped experimenting with pancake recipes.  I’d given it up as a lost cause…for the meantime.

My favourite TV Chef is Nigella Lawson (stay with me, I’m not digressing! mentioning Nigella will eventually serve its purpose!).  While a lot of her recipes are absolutely rich and wonderfully calorific, some of them are absolutely practical and really quick to do.  Forever Summer is the Nigella series that, I think is, my favourite.  It’s where I got 2 of my favourite recipes.  A tamarind-based fish curry that’s absolutely deeee-vine over rice (ayayayayay!!  over rice again!  but then again, I am Filipino!) and pancakes from scratch.  Here’s my version of her recipe.  I’m finally learning to cook in smaller portions.  Hurrah!

This version is made with cream cheese.

Ingredients:

Makes 8 – 10 6-inch pancakeswannabe domestic goddess pancakes

  • 150 grams cream cheese (you can use full fat, low fat, non-fat)
  • 200 ml skim milk (the fattier the milk, the richer the pancake! butter milk is the best! yum yum!)
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/3 cup sugar (you can add more, but if you’re topping pancakes with syrup this is enough)
  • 2/3 cup self-raising flour (I use this so I don’t have to add baking powder)
  • 1 tsp vanilla (the better the vanilla, the better the pancakes 🙂 also, I’m very liberal with the vanilla!)
  • butter for greasing the pan

Directions:

  • Separate the egg yolks from the egg whites, and set aside.
  • Add the sugar to the egg yolks and beat until the egg yolk and sugar mixture turns very pale yellow.  Add the vanilla.  Add the cream cheese and mix until well-incorporated.  Add the flour slowly, making sure that there are no lumps.  Add the milk.  Set aside.
  • Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form.  Add 1/3 of the egg whites into the egg yolk mixture until well incorporated and then fold in the rest of the egg whites gently
  • Grease a non-stick pan with a little butter (don’t put too much butter as this will FRY the pancake—you don’t really want that).  Ladel pancake batter.  Wait until the larger bubbles burst before flipping over, this should take 1-2 minutes, depending on how hot the hob is.  The pancake is relatively ready if you shake the pan and the pancake moves around relatively easily (if you’re not using a non-stick pan, you may have to check if the pancake’s bubble-side is cooked).
  • You can garnish with whatever fruit tickles your heart strings and drizzle whatever flavoured syrup you want.
  • You can also cook a non-cream cheese version and just do away with the cream-cheese.  It still works! 🙂

Salted Duck Egg and Tomato Salad

itlog na maalatItlog na maalat (Filipino for salty egg) or itlog na pula (Filipino for red egg) is not something that I can get from my local Morrisons, Tesco or Sainsbury’s.  And I missed it terribly.  I missed just being able to pop down to the market and buy a couple of eggs, one-fourth kilo of tomatoes and run back home and pick a few basil leaves from my dad’s garden.

It’s one of the simplest Filipino dishes ever.  You just cut the salted duck eggs (they’re hard-boiled) into cubes, cube the tomatoes, chop the basil leaves finely and mix them together.  It’s a great accompaniment to rice and fried fish or a roasted chicken or roasted pork (liempo to us Pinoys).  Sometimes, when I can’t think of what to cook to accompany my rice, this is the quickest viand to put together, no cooking required.  Since I’ve moved to the UK, I’ve made variations.  I’ve added an onion in the mix.  Another version of this salad is to add dill (fresh or dried) instead of basil.

I can’t go down to Chinatown in London all the time or head to the Filipino store in Colchester.  It’s not every day that I can get duck eggs but I daresay, it’s easier to get duck eggs from somewhere than it is to go down to London!  So I had to find out how to make my own salted eggs.  And this is the recipe.  It’s the one that works for me best.

As found in: http://www.lilligren.com/homestead/duckeggs.htm

Ingredients:
1 dozen duck eggs (any breed of duck will work)
1 to 1-1/2 cups of sea salt
5 cups water
1 gallon glass or plastic container

What you should do:
1. To make the brine solution, dissolve salt in warm water.
2. Wash eggs thoroughly and put them in the container.
3. Pour in the brine solution. Cover the container with a towel.
4. Let stand at room temperature for 30 days. Turn the eggs every 4 days.
5. After 30 days, remove the eggs from the brine solution. Wash with water.
6. Cook the eggs by boiling in water for 30 minutes.

BUT if you can’t wait for the 30 days, you can do this:

1. Boil the eggs in the brine solution.
2. Make a fresh batch of the brine solution. Peel cooked duck eggs. Place them in the fresh brine solution and soak for 24 hours.

**Note that it won’t turn out as good as the ones made to soak for 30 days, but sometimes, instant gratification is good too! 🙂 I also don’t use that many eggs (I did 2 for my tomato salad)! So the brine solution can be scaled down to about 3 tbsp of salt to 500ml of water is good 🙂

Recipe: Sautéed Aubergines

True story:  I was looking for eggplants in the market because eggplants are one of my favourite vegetables.  I knew I could buy it anywhere so I thought I’d look.  Eggplants in the UK are like eggplants in the US.  They’re big and fat.  I think they’re called Japanese eggplants in Philippine supermarkets.  But, I digress.  I can’t remember if it was actually in the Ipswich market or if it was at the shops, but I remember asking someone where the eggplants were.  All I got was a blank stare.  Then I remembered.  They don’t call eggplants here eggplants.  They call them AUBERGINES!  To make things complicated, this is the phonetic spelling:  br-zhn, br-jn

The easiest eggplant recipe (apart from slice thinly and fry and dip into soy sauce with garlic) is to sauté the eggplant in garlic, onion and tomatoes.  I find comfort in cooking this because it reminds me of home.  I think this became a quick favourite at home (my mom likes it, my brother loves it, my sister hates it and my dad can’t eat eggplant—even stevens!) because it works well as a rice topping.  It’s quick, it’s easy and it’s a vegetable!  I remember eating it with shrimp paste and rice.  Yum! 🙂

I cooked this on Sunday because Sunday was Day 1 of The Challenge.  Since I moved to the UK, I usually cook this with pork mince.  But in true challenge-facing spirit, I cooked it the way I used to cook it in the Philippines, sautéed with oyster sauce!

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium-sized eggplant, diced
  • 2 medium-sized salad tomatoes, diced
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil (optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Heat the vegetable oil in a shallow pan.  Once the oil is relatively hot (not smoking hot though!), add onions.  Sauté until the onions are transluscent, then add the tomatoes.  The tomatoes should turn slightly mushy (if at this stage the tomatoes and onions look slightly dry, add a 2-3 tablespoons of water).  Add the garlic (my mom always taught me that you should add garlic first when sautéing, but so many chefs say that you add garlic last because garlic burns fairly quickly and adding garlic near the end of the sautéing allows you to control the intensity of the garlic taste in the dish).
  2. Once the garlic is slightly browned this is usually the stage where you add your meat (in my case, due to the challenge, I didn’t add any meat) and brown it.  Once the meat is browned, add your oyster sauce.  Simmer for 3 minutes.
  3. Add the aubergine and simmer, stirring occasionally for 7-10 minutes.  The dark purple of the aubergine skin should turn slightly brown and the flesh should take on the colour of the tomatoes.
  4. Add salt and pepper to taste (if the oyster sauce hasn’t made it salty enough for you).  To finish, add the sesame oil.

Serving suggestion:   Serve over a bowl of steamed rice.

Choices, choices

I had written down this woeful entry about how tired I was, and how I wished I could just go to work tomorrow (as it is 8 minutes after midnight, I guess I should say later!) and just say, I’m going now, toodle pip!  But I’m not a quitter.  I may whine and cry about how hard it is but I try my best to get things done…with a smile on my face.  I guess I’m just feeling the pressure at work and needed a good cry to relieve the tension.  I hit the delete button and trashed the entry.  It’s a good thing to vent, but not a good thing to send out negativity into the cosmos!

In my heart of hearts, I’d love a job where I can read, cook, bake and write.  Does anyone need anyone to do just that?  I’d love to do that, and, because we live in the real world, with real needs and real bills, I’d love to get paid for it too!  But when I seriously consider what I want to do in this dream job of mine, the pesky self-doubt creeps in:  Am I a good enough writer?  Will people want to read what I want to say?  Are my thoughts even interesting enough?  Am I interesting enough?  After I’ve wallowed in my self-doubt long enough for my hands and feet to go all pruney, I go back to my dream job drawing board, not to rethink, but to plan how I’m going to find a way to find that job that lets me do what I want and make money out of it!  There has got to be a way for me to do what I love the most!  But until I figure out how to do just that, I shall go back to the grind!

Now how’s that for verbal diarrhea?

I’m trying to decide which cookbook to write about:  Lorraine Pascale’s Home Cooking Made Easy or Rachel Khoo’s Little Paris Kitchen.  Any thoughts?

Blueberry Crumble Pie from Edd Kimber


I think I chose the perfect recipe from Edd Kimber’s book.  The book was a gift from Alan (who enables my cookbook addiction!).  I am diabetic which means that I can’t have as much sugar as the next person, so I figured trying a fruit recipe would be the safest bet.  I reduced the amount of sugar by about 50 grams and I was quite fortunate that the blueberries that I bought had a good sweetness and tart ratio!  Also, the crumble topping allowed me to use my pastry mixer (which I called a pastry cutter for ages, but I was told it was called a pastry mixer in bonny old England! yes, me and my Americanisms, eh?)!

Edd Kimber was the first ever winner of the Great British Bake Off.  Mind you I was rooting for Ruth Clemens but it was a completely undeniable truth that Edd had the gift!

The book is lovely and the pictures are gorgeous!  They seem scream out to you, “Bake me!  Bake me!”  Plus Edd’s hands looked really gentle and elegant…soooo different from my chipolata sausage fingers!  But I digress.  This is really about this lovely book!  The instructions are clear and concise and very easy to follow.  I love the way everything was described systematically: what you had to do, when you had to do it, how long you had to do it for.  I also love the layout of the book and how everything looks pristine and clean.

What I love the most is how my pie, seeing that it was the first time I’d made the pie and seeing how I’d tweaked the recipe, looked almost identical to the photo in the book.  I was beaming with pride!  Edd Kimber was happy enough to retweet the photo of the pie I posted on Twitter (yes, it was a fan girl moment, bless my giddy heart!).

You MUST try Edd’s recipes.  I’ve got a challenge set up for myself to try the macaron recipes next.  But if  you want a wonderful fruit pie recipe that’s easy to make and comes out beautifully, this book should become one of your regulars in your recipe arsenal!  It is absolutely YUM!

Cookbook cooking

I started cooking when I was probably 8 years old.  I was left to my own devices one afternoon and I wandered into the kitchen.  I saw green beans.  I saw eggs and I saw pink food colouring.  And voila!  Pink scrambled eggs and crunchy beans were created!  It was horrible.  It had no salt or pepper.  I had no idea that you had to sautee beans with garlic, onions and tomatoes for it to taste nice.  But that was the (disastrous) beginning of my adventure in gastronomy.

My first adventure in cookbook cooking was creating what we Filipinos call “palitaw” which loosely translated means “to float”.  It’s essentially like a gnocchi made from rice flour and water, covered in sugar and coconut and and sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds.  It was a recipe from my fifth grade home economics textbook.  My parents had gone and bought my books a month ahead of school starting (so that we could cover my books in protective plastic and get me all sorted out for the first day of school).  Being the voracious reader that I was, I couldn’t stop my curious nature and I started looking through the books.  I had finished my English and Reading books already.  I’d read my Science book twice and the Maths, well, I was confident I’d be able to deal with things when school started (I wasn’t too interested in Maths!).  The last book that I hadn’t leafed through was my home economics text book.  It was then that I fell in love with cooking.  I read the recipe for palitaw and then begged my nanny to come with me to the  market so that I could buy the ingredients.  I surprised my parents that afternoon with a snack and coffee when they came home from the office.

And so my cooking journey began.

I rarely looked at books after that.  My mom was an excellent cook, but she was more instinctive and relied on tasting her food, instead of measuring everything out.  Everything I’ve learned, the basics, I learned by watching my mom and following her instructions.

My parents have got several cookbooks but none that I can really say I poured over in the way that I do the cookbooks that I’ve managed to adopt since I’ve moved to England.  I remember my bestfriend Maries having this amazing collection of cookbooks that I secretly coveted.  She cooked coq au vin from one of the books and I thought, wow, I’d love to do that.  Since I moved to England though, I think  To date, I have a collection of 27 cookbooks (which includes Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking and  Delia Smith’s Delia’s Complete Cookery Course).  Mostly baking cookbooks as I seem to be better at baking more than anything else.  But I do have proper cookbooks that have recipes for mains and soups and such.

This blogging about food idea came about because of my friend Rhoda.  I talked to her about this book that I was “writing”.  She said why not have the (imaginary) readers of my (so-called) book (in the making) blog about their experiences about using my recipes.  A lightbulb switched on in my head.  Since I’ve got cookbooks, why don’t I blog about my cooking experiences?

And here we are.  I’ve begun this new and exciting journey.  The next thing to do is to decide which cookbook recipe to start with!