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Raw Banana & Ginger Pudding

May 8, 2012
Raw Banana Ginger Pudding

Usually when I indulge in dessert beyond fruit it is a spur of the moment bakery purchase or a few squares of dark chocolate that I keep tucked away in the fridge. I try not to keep much on hand because…I will eat it. However, this is one dessert that will leave you feeling guilt free!

This dish was inspired by my keen ability to buy too many bananas. Almost every time I shop at the market I over estimate my banana consumption by roomy margins. Recently, I have been trying to only buy enough for 1-2 days in order to avoid a mushy brown mess in my fruit basket. Still failing.

So what can you do with those extra bananas? When I was in the United States I used to throw them in the freezer and then make banana bread on a rainy day, but most homes in the Philippines don’t have ovens, mine included. Here is a dish in the opposite direction, a pudding with a little spice and everything nice.

Ingredients: (makes about 3 servings)

  • 3-4 medium sized bananas (overripe preferred)
  • Small knob of ginger (estimate it to be 1tbsp)
  • 2-3 calamansi limes

Preparation:

1. Peel the knob of ginger and roughly chop. Use a mortar and pestle to pound it into a paste. You should have about 1tbsp of ginger paste. If you don’t have a mortar & pestle just chop as finely as you can. 

2. Peel and roughly slice your bananas into a large bowl. Then mash using the back of a fork until it’s fairly smooth.

Overripe Bananas

Sliced Bananas

Mashed bananas

3. Juice the calamansi into the mashed bananas, being careful to not loose the seeds. Add the ginger paste and mix thoroughly.

4. Taste for sweetness. If the bananas were overripe it shouldn’t need anything, but you can add sugar or agave syrup to taste.

5. Place the pudding mixture into a mold. I used a 1/2c measuring scoop. You could also use a cupcake sheet, small glass or just make one large pudding in a bowl.

6. Place the pudding into the freezer or fridge for 2+ hours to freeze or chill. When finished remove from mold by turning mold over on plate and lightly tapping till the pudding slides onto the plate. You do not have have freeze/chill the pudding, but it really makes it more of a special treat, especially on a hot day.

Spicy, tangy and sweet! Enjoy!

An Abridged Seafood Education at STK Ta Bay

May 4, 2012

Recently I went out to dinner with friends Leah Eggers, a fellow PCV, and Francis Abelgas, the Dive Master at Hukas Divers* in Cebu City. Our dining spot was STK Ta Bay, a well-known and unobtrusive joint in what was, at one time, someone’s home. Today the whole building has been converted into seating areas and the walls are covered with pictures of the famous people who have visited from Filipino movie stars to The United States Ambassador.

Their menu is almost entirely seafood. That is what they are famous for and that is what this post is about. Not so much what we ordered, but how we ate it. The dishes in question here were Curry Crabs and Spicy Chili Shrimp.

Spicy Chili Shrimp

What may not be immediately visible in the picture (forgive me, I had a point & shoot…and a few beers) is that the shrimp were still entirely inside the shell – head to tail. This is pretty common practice in the Philippines. It’s something that has so often irritated me, the extra work necessary to get that tiny morsel off the plate. So I began the task of hatching them from their shells using everything at my disposal: fork, spoon and fingers. After a few messy successes I turned to my table mates and shared my frustration. Leah, my American counterpart seemed to empathize. Francis kind of looked at me with a cocked head and told me I could eat the whole thing.

The whole thing?

I kind of froze mulling this over while jerkily turning my head in every direction noticing other patrons putting whole shrimp into their mouths. Indeed friends, it is true, head to tail, shell and all. You can eat the whole thing.

When in Rome…or Cebu in this case, do as the Cebuanos do. I placed a shrimp onto my spoon with a complimentary amount of rice…maybe a bit of extra rice for the sake of my uncertainty, and popped it into my mouth.

The first thing I noticed was that I was not dying. The second thing I noticed was how crunchy it was, a texture that seemed so appropriate for the Philippines where things like fried pork skin are a delicacy. This country likes its crunch. The third thing I noticed? That it tasted great! Gimme some more! I continued on my shrimp mission for a while, though I admittedly still removed most of the heads. Never been much of a cranial-structure consuming type of person.

And then there were crabs…

Curry Crabs

These were not my crabs, they were Francis’ crabs, but he was kind enough to offer me some. I told him that I love crabs, but I just felt intimidated by the Philippine version. I was used to Alaskan king crab legs that come straddled with crab crackers, a mallet and a lobster pick. I just didn’t understand how one got into the legs of these miniature beasts.

Francis was kind enough to give me a brief tutorial.

Curry Crabs at STK

You put the whole thing into your mouth and chew.

Kidding! Do not do that. That would not taste good.

First take a leg, do not separate the cartilage from each piece…my first mistake. Place the smallest section in between your teeth and break the shell in one or two places.

Now pick away a few bits of the shell to reveal your perfect and delicious bit of crab. Note that this is seriously messy business.

Eat and enjoy!

Success should look something like this:

Today, I have aired my inexpertness, which extends to many areas, including astrophysics and grammar. As a foodie there is always something to learn! There are no gastronomic Buddhas and I’m so happy to have great people around me to share in new adventures.

**If you are interested in doing some incredible diving with Hukas divers while in Cebu you can contact Francis at  09189.438.938 & 09223.293.838 or by email at francisrobertabelgas@gmail.com.

Peace Corps French Toast

May 2, 2012

I use the term “french toast” loosely here because, let’s be honest, there isn’t a lot of cinnamon, powdered sugar or maple syrup to be had here in my little corner of the Philippines. However, when you have a lazy morning, and the craving hits, you make due! For clarification, perhaps we will just call this delicious, eggy bread topped with fresh sliced bananas and a side of mango jam.

Image

I rarely make, buy or order sweet breakfast foods. I’ve just always been on the savory side of the table when it comes to morning eats. But occasionally I just need something a little different. Today it was the perfect collision of bread, eggs and milk in one fried up little toast-let!

Ingredients: (makes 2 servings…multiply as necessary)

  • 6 slices of loaf bread – I just used basic Julie’s, but anything will work!
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4c milk – powdered or fresh (fat is flavor…and if your market is like mine, you wont have any other options!)
  • 2tbsp butter or oil – butter will add a much nicer flavor to the end result, but oil will do the trick too
  • 2 medium bananas
  • 2tbsp mango jam
  • Optional: cinnamon or nutmeg
Preparation:
1.  Crack egg into a bowl, add milk and beat together with fork until thoroughly combined. (if you have some ground cinnamon or nutmeg, stir in a small pinch, maybe 1/4tsp)
2.  Heat butter or oil over medium/high heat.
3.  Dip one slice of bread into the egg and milk mixture, pressing it in a bit to soak as much as it can. Turn the piece over and repeat. When saturated, place the slice into the hot pan. Repeat with the other slices.

Image

4. Let the slices brown 2-4 minutes on each side. Slice the banana while you wait.

5. When finished, remove toast to a plate and top with the banana. Serve mango jam on the side.

When I do indulge myself in french toast or pancakes I’m a dipper not a drizzler. So if you so desire you can always spread that jam on your toast-lets! Enjoy!

Lechon – Would You Like That Pig Whole?

March 26, 2012
planking lechon

The Philippines new tourism campaign has gone viral!

If I had to name a dish that defines my Peace Corps experience it would likely be lechon. For Filipinos that eat pork, lechon is the food of celebration! It’s what you serve at weddings, parties, holidays, birthdays, welcomings and despedidas. Lechon is a delicacy, a specialty, an expertise. The island of Cebu, where I currently reside, is known nation wide as having the best lechon. Wealthy Filipinos literally fly in lechon from Cebu to their parties.

For the typical American, on the other hand, the sight of a whole roasted pig can be a bit unnerving. Western culture generally disguises animals by keeping any identifiable body parts off the table. Feet, heads and eyes usually are not in grocery display cases and have to be specially requested from the butcher. Whole fish and shrimp are even rare. A whole pig is not easily misidentified.

Lechon never really bothered me from a visual standpoint, but it did intimidate me. Often at these events I was asked to go through the buffet line first…how does one approach a whole pig?! With a knife. Aggressively. After a few parties I  adapted. Frankly, I love lechon. I have learned how to push my way into a line of lechon swarming Filipinos and get the best parts! Ribs. In fact, I recently said out loud after eating some lechon “that is the best pig skin I’ve ever had!”, that was a phrase I never expected to say.

Method of Preparation:

1. Pick out your pig! In order to properly cook lechon there is a weight limit. You cannot cook a pig much over 40kilos otherwise the deepest cuts of meat will never fully cook without burning the skin.

2. Slaughter pig. Though I have never been present for this part of the process, and never intend to be, I have a pretty good idea of how this happens. The pig must be bled out without damaging its physical structure. The point of lechon is to present a beautiful whole pig on the table. Therefore the pig is bled via a slit in the neck. The only time I have actually purchased my own lechon, when my mother visited the Philippines, I picked out my pig, sent it love and thanks for its life and left. Though I am a meat eater, I don’t particularly like the dirty work. I don’t even kill spiders in general.

3. Clean pig via large cut in stomach. Remove hair on skin with razor blade.

4. Rub body cavity with salt. Place lemongrass, onion leaves, onion and garlic inside the body cavity and sew up.

5. Place pig on spit for cooking.

6. Slowly turn the spit over hot coals until meat is cooked evenly. The time depends on the size of the pig, but takes many hours. Be careful not to burn the skin, but make it a crispy, golden texture.

Cooking lechon

7. Remove spit and serve HOT on platter adorned with a banana leaf!

Method of Eating Lechon:

1. Follow the swarm of people.

2. First break off a piece of the crispy skin. This is one of the most favored parts. When fresh, it’s crunchy and delicious, even bacon-esque. Although I do love this part of lechon, I limit myself to a small piece. Let’s be real, it’s basically all fat. Not even basically, it’s all fat.

3. Use a knife and your fork to pull out some pieces of juicy, tender meat from various parts of the pig. I find the rump to be a safe bet. More meat, less fat.

4. As the pig is carved and the ribs are exposed, grab some! Fast! They are, by many, considered the best part. Because they are so close to the body cavity filled with and spices they have a strong, savory flavor.

baby eating lechon rib

My host sister Marthina eating the BEST Part! Start 'em early!

5. Well, by now your plate should be full of lechon, rice, bam-i, humba, escaviche, empanadas, fresh mango and banana. It’s time to eat! If available you can put some banana catsup or sweet chili sauce on the side of your lechon and indulge yourself in the pleasure of food.

6. As more parts of the pig are picked over some adventerous eaters will begin taking the ears and tail and so on. After everyone has finished eating, the host will often bag any leftover pieces to send home with guests as a gift such as the head and legs.

The Philippines is about family, community and togetherness. Food is a huge part of that experience. So eat together and love together. LECHON!

Kidney & White Bean Chili with Roast Chicken

March 20, 2012
Kindney & White Bean Chili

Recently, I’ve been dealing with a lot of sick. Just a week ago I recovered from amoebas…what one might call a protozoan induced, aggressive colonic. and now I’m suffering from some debilitating combination of sore throat and cough. I’m fine. I just don’t feel great! So, today I decided I needed something hearty and healthy to pick me up a bit. Chili it is! Packed with protein and vegetables it’s just what the doctor-I-never-saw ordered.

I use canned beans for this dish. Over the past few months, canned bean purchasing has become somewhat of a compulsion for me. They cut prep and cook times for meals significantly and are a fantastic source of vegetarian protein. Also, beans and are a healthy and low glycemic alternative to carbohydrates like white bread and rice. Sometimes I eat spiced black beans on the side of an egg for breakfast instead of the typical toast.

So these days if I find a can of beans, I stock up. In the Philippines I’ve found that there is little predictability to what beans will be available in grocery stores, but upscale shops like Rustan’s and Healthy Options in Cebu City generally carry a lot of variety. I used white beans and kidney beans in this dish. I found the white beans at Rustan’s for about php50 and the kidney beans at Fooda Mart in Consolacion for about the same price. You could replace the beans I used with whatever is available near you or in your pantry. Don’t shy away from trying this with mung beans!

Ingredients:

  • 1 can kidney beans – drained and rinsed thoroughly
  • 1 can white beans – drained and rinsed thoroughly
  • 1 head of garlic
  • 1 carrot
  • 6-8 small red tomatoes
  • 6-8 small red onions
  • 1 ear of corn – husked and washed
  • 1 lechon manok (rotisserie chicken) (leave this out for the vegetarian/vegan option) 
  • 3-5 cups of filtered water
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 1 cube chicken stock
  • salt to taste
  • black pepper to taste

Preparation: (makes 6-8 servings)

1. Cut ends off the onions, slice in half, remove skin and slice into half moons. Set aside in bowl.

2. Separate and peel the cloves of garlic, chop roughly. Add to bowl with onions.

Sliced Onions & Chopped Garlic

3. Slice the kernels of corn off of the cob. I find this is most easily done by taking my knife around the middle of the cob, as if to cut it in half, then using my hands to break it from my small incision. Then placing one of the flat ends into a bowl and slicing off the kernels. The bowl helps to catch jumpy bits that may be aiming for the floor.

4. Seed and roughly dice the tomatoes, leaving them in large chunks. Set aside with the corn. To save time, I chose not to peel my tomatoes, but this can be easily done by quickly dropping them in boiling water for 5-10 seconds, removing them to a bowl and taking off the skins by hand.

Chopped Tomatoes and Corn

5. Peel and roughly chop the carrot.

Chopped Carrots

 6. Heat oil in a deep & heavy pan over medium heat. Drop a piece of garlic in to test heat, when oil starts to bubble around it, dump in all of the onions and garlic. Sauté for 10-15min until the onion and garlic start to caramelize and brown. WHILE the onions are cooking shred the rotisserie chicken into a bowl. Using rotisserie chicken saves time and adds a nice smokey flavor to the broth. You can decide to use all of the chicken in the chili or just half, saving the rest for sandwiches or salads. 

7. Add about 3 cups of water to the pan and bring to a boil. Add the chicken stock cube and stir until dissolved. Use spatula to scrape the bottom of the pan, releasing tasty bits of onion and garlic that may have become stuck.

8. Add carrots to the pan. Cook for about 3min, stirring occasionally.

9. Add the tomatoes, corn, beans, chicken chili powder, cumin, a pinch of salt and pepper. Bring back to a boil and cook for about 3min, stirring occasionally. Add water if it becomes too dry. The consistency should be very thick, like a stew. So don’t add too much!

10. Remove from heat and taste for salt & pepper.

11. Serve it up! This is complete meal on its own, but can be accompanied by some toasted bread or other craved additions.

Ready to taste!

Alternatives to Try/Add:

  • chopped chayote squash
  • green beans
  • eggplant
  • white potato

Mediterranean Okra & Tomato Salad

January 11, 2012

Near the University of Denver, where I used to live and study, there were a lot of Middle Eastern grocery stores. One popped up right near my home and they stocked some fresh produce as well as lovely little bits of cooking culture like rose water and canned dolmades.

The family who owned it taught me this recipe after I purchased some fresh okra and explained that I wanted to try something beyond frying it. They enlightened me with this delightfully healthy alternative.

So far as I’m aware all of the ingredients for this dish are available everywhere in the Philippines. So, commit to those New Year resolutions and eat a little healthier!

Ingredients: 

  • 1/4 kilo fresh okra – washed. Pick over the stock carefully looking for any serious malformations or rotting. Deteriorating okra often has slimy spots on the outside.
  • 1/4 kilo fresh red tomatoes – washed
  • 1 head garlic
  • 1 tbps olive oil (or flavorless oil)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • Cumin (optional)
  • Cayenne (optional)

Preparation: (Makes 4-6 servings)

1. Seed and dice the tomatoes. To seed a tomato: Begin by slicing off the top (end that was connected to the plant). Then slice tomatoes in half so that the seeds are visible. Now take a spoon and slide it below both sides of the seeds, this requires you to force the spoon under the white that separates the seeded sections. Over a trash can or cutting board, starting from the sliced end, pull to the other side removing everything.  

Slice tomato in half

Seeding a tomato

Diced tomatoes

2. Peel and mince the whole head garlic.

Minced garlic

3. Remove both ends of the okra and slice to about 1/2in pieces. Okra is a slimy, sticky mess inside so I always save it for last otherwise it just kind of lurks around on your cutting board while you are trying to do other things.

Sliced Okra

4. Heat oil in a pan over medium-low heat. When hot, add the garlic and sauté for 2-4 minutes until it’s beginning to soften and becomes fragrant.

Garlic sautéing

5. Add the okra to the pan. Stir occasionally for 8-12 minutes. The okra will start at a dull green and eventually become a much more vibrant tone, signaling its level of preparation. Make sure you cook it long enough to become softened, but not a limp mess. Taste a piece or two to make sure you achieve your desired level of doneness.

Sautéing Okra - beginning

Sautéing Okra - finished

6. Add the tomatoes and stir for 2-3 minutes just to lightly cook them. Remove from heat.

7. Stir in the salt and optional cumin and cayenne to taste.

8. Serve! This dish goes great with rice. I chose to use black rice, an heirloom variety grown here in the Philippines. It’s much healthier than white rice and frankly it’s just really beautiful.

Heirloom Rices: Admittedly, these types of rice can cost twice as much per kilo compared to white rice. However, they also have almost twice the nutritional value. Unmilled rices reduce your chance of getting diabetes and have a lower glycemic index. They are incredibly good for your health and whenever possible I would suggest finding brown, red or black rice instead of white. Brown is the much cheaper alternative, only a few pesos more than white.

I was able to find my heirloom varieties at a fair trade store in Cebu City located a few blocks down from the Crown Regency hotel (near Fuente Osmena Circle). They carry both black and red rice, which are also organic! So many wins in one purchase. It’s produced by Bukidnon Organic Products (BOPC) and distributed by SouthernPartners and Fair Trade Center. I know this store also has a branch in Tagbilaran, Bohol.

Happy rice hunting!

Spicy Pork Sliders with Cranberry Mango Chutney

December 29, 2011

Sliders have become a common thread here on Clairedobo. Because, well, they are delicious, little vehicles of sandwich love!  These sliders were born out of an absurd amount of leftover chutney from Christmas. Christmas chutney…indeed. I have provided a chutney recipe from elsewhere on the interwebs, but any store bought version will work just fine. Aim for at least mango. The sliders require something tart & sweet to round out the flavor.

As per usual there are a lot of different spices in the pork. Use what you can find! These should be available at most grocery stores, but things vary from island to island.

Pork Patties: (makes about 9 patties)

  • 1/4 kilo ground pork
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 bunch green onions thinly sliced – All of the whites & about 1in of the greens
  • 1 head of garlic coarsely chopped – Yup. The whole thing.
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1 tsp sage
  • 1.5 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne - Or to taste
  • 3 tbsp canola oil – Or other tasteless cooking oil

For the Sliders:

  • 10-15 pieces pan de leche
  • 1 apple
  • 4-5 kalamansi
  • 1 red onion
  • Sliced cheddar cheese (optional – but such a delicious option)

Cranberry & Mango Chutney – taken from a recipe from Chef Annacia at Yummly (you can use this recipe OR use any store bought chutney)

Preparation:

1. Prepare chutney ahead of time and let chill in fridge or cool to room temperature. If using store bought remove from fridge and bring to room temperature.

2. Add all pork patty ingredients to bowl and mix thoroughly

Ground Pork Mixed

3. Heat oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Make sure oil fully covers the bottom of the pan, if necessary add more oil.

4. Shape pork mixture into small patties 1.5-2in in diameter. Carefully place patties into hot oil and let cook for about 4-5 min on each side. Turn when slightly browned. Add oil as necessary. Remember, pork must cook all the way through.

Fry it up!

Turned Patties

5. While the patties are cooking, thinly slice the red onion & apple. Slice kalamansi in half. Add apple to airtight container and add juice from the kalamansi. Cover with lid and shake to cover all apples with kalamansi juice. This will improve the flavor and prevent the apples from browning.

Apple and Onion

kalamansi

6. When the patties are done cooking remove to plate covered in paper towels.

Finished patties

7. Slice or rip the pan de leche in half.

Pan de Leche

8. On each sandwich place in this order:

  • cheddar cheese (if using)
  • 1 patty
  • 1 slice onion (the entire half moon)
  • 1 slice apple
  • dolop of chutney
Served!

Serve these sliders open face with the remaining piece of bread on the side. They are quite dramatic when plated and you wouldn’t want to ruin the beauty by covering it up immediately! If eating with friends, prepare enough for each person to have 3-4 sliders. Of course, after tasting this dish they may want a few more! Enjoy!

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