Thursday, July 31, 2008

Knife Magic

I like keeping my knives sharp. Not just a little sharp. Really sharp. As in, don't drop the knife on your foot because it'll slice through the bone (almost) sharp. As such, I religiously use a steel to keep my knives honed.

Many years ago, on a lark, I put a diamond-dust coated Wüsthof steel on my Amazon wanted list for Christmas. I never thought anyone would get one for me. Much to my surprise, my dad bought me one.

It was love at first use! Oh, my blades went back to straight, true, slicing through tomatoes like Ginsu knives promised they would.

I loved my steel. When I packed it to come here to the Philippines, I packed it well. Packed it to protect against getting banged up, bent, scratched, etc. I forgot about one little thing ... the ocean salt air. See, most of our household items went across the Pacific in big containers. So, they were exposed to the ravages of the nasty, salty air.

My steel, my poor steel, arrived DOA. Dead. D-E-D, dead.

Of course, my knives became more and more dull. Didn't cut like they should. And, that's frustrating. Finally, I said ENOUGH! I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore! (actually, it was more like ... hmmm, let's see what's out there that I can get shipped here quickly ... but, that doesn't sound quite as cool and outraged).

While I love Wüsthof products, I thought I'd give Henckels a try. I'd heard many good things about them over the years, but had never purchased one of their knives. I decided on a J. A. Henckels 10-inch Diamond Sharpening Steel. The price was reasonable at $39.95 (reasonable for a steel coated in diamond dust that is).

It took three weeks. But, the steel finally arrived. Was the Henckels steel as good as the Wüsthof? Did I immediately fall in love with it, eschewing the many years of loyalty from my old steel?

Yes! YES! My knives are sharp and honed again! They slice through nearly anything with ease. This is so great. I'm back to sharp knife happiness.

One small caveat with an aggressive steel like this one: it wears out the knife faster. However, if you're an amateur chopper like me, it makes little difference. And, what difference you do see is more than offset by having knives stay sharper, longer.

Highly recommended. I love it.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Must Make List

This is a collection of recipes I have and links to recipes on other sites that I simply must cook. I'm sure it will grow faster than I can cook the items.

Chicken Pot Pies - The picture on this blog is just gorgeous. Unfortunately, I can't just buy puff pastry here. So, I'll have to make the crust from scratch. I'm pretty sure I've got a recipe here somewhere that'll do.

Savory Potato Biscuits - Wow, who can say no to potatoes and cheese with some sour cream? I can't! My problem with this recipe is that it calls for making them in the microwave. I'll have to figure out how to cook them in the oven.

Potatoes Baked with Parmigiano - Potatoes, cream, Parmigiano Reggiano. Sounds like a dish from Heaven. Only one issue here: Parmigiano Reggiano. Just a little hard to find here. OK, no a little, impossible. I'll use the shredded and bagged variety. Can't skip this one.

Cinnamon Rolls - These look so good. And the recipe looks so easy. No excuse not to make them. I think I'll leave out the coffee. Not a fan.

Mini Stuffed Pizzas - This is a must. I'm going to have to work up to these. Good ingredients here? Rare. Going to have to learn how to make good pepperoni and good Italian sausage. For that, I'll need fennel seed ... again, not available here. More importing.

Pepperoni - We can't even buy the packaged stuff here. This recipe looks pretty good. I like that they slow-bake the meat and not cure it over 6-8 weeks. I'd rather not have to build a smokehouse just to have pepperoni.

Italian Sausage - More required food for pizzas. And, especially required for me. My favorite pizza is Canadian Bacon and Italian Sausage. Simple, flavorful.

Apple Crumble - I haven't had this in years. Yet, I can still remember just how good it is. Getting good apples here isn't too hard, just a matter of finding them at the mercado ... catching a vendor when they first come in. The more difficult part will be adjusting the recipe for local sugars. We don't have American-style brown sugar here. There is normal granulated sugar, turbinado sugar, and some other darker sugar. I'm sure I can figure it out. Just a matter of making and eating a few batches. Oh, the horror! Hehe.

Herb-Baked Eggs - I love eggs. I love good herbs. Toss in some cheese and I cannot resist. This calls for heavy cream. Wait a sec, can't type, laughing too hard. OK, back. Yeah, heavy cream isn't happening here. I'll have to figure something out with evaporated milk or one of the other less-than-high-quality dairy products we do have here.

Macaroni-and-Cheese - If pressed, I'll admit that I like the Kraft boxed mac-and-cheese. I even like it with extra cheese powder. Industrial? Oh yeah. Yummy, more so. Still, there is better. This recipe looks really good. I've tried Alton Brown's mac-and-cheese (he's my favorite food personality, love the science he throws in) and wasn't too thrilled with it. Normally, I love his stuff, just not this time. I'll probably make this without the ham as I don't have a source for good ham here.

Soft Pretzels - What else is there to say?

Crispy Yogurt Chicken - Wow, that looks good. I just started making yogurt here, too. This will be perfect. I love panko, too!

Roast Pork Loin with Potatoes - roasted meat and potatoes? It's definitely one of the World's Most Perfect Meals.

Chicago-Style Deep Dish Pizza - Wow, this guy makes it and makes it look amazing. I can only hope that mine would be close. Need to dig out some cast iron for this!

More to come as I sort through my bookmarks ...

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Ham-and-Cheese Bun

The Barbecue Pork Buns that I made were a big hit. So, I decided to build upon success. After all, if Hollywood can release sequel after sequel, so can I!

I'd planned to do cheeseburger and bacon cheeseburger buns. Unfortunately, the local meat shops were out of ground beef and had been for a few days. This is one of the drawbacks of living in the semi-rural Philippines. And, don't get me started on fennel seed ... I spent three hours yesterday looking all around town for that only to find puzzled faces.

So, I decided to make a ham-and-cheese variant of these yummy stuffed buns. The problem was that I couldn't find any good cheese in town for sale. They go in cycles of availability here and I'd run out of my stock from the last cycle.

I tried a few experimental buns with Quickmelt and Kraft "Cheddar" (it's a brand name here, not real Cheddar cheese). Both of these are a notch or two below Velveeta on the cheese-quality scale and definitely count as industrial food.

Both were pretty bad, so I feel back to Cheez Whiz. Yes, Cheez Whiz was the best I had available to me.

Making the Buns

I used the dough from the original recipe. For filling, I chopped up some ham and mixed it with Cheez Whiz and a teaspoon of corn starch to thicken slightly.

I experimented with the sizes of each piece of dough. Last time, one of the testers complained that there wasn't enough bread in the buns. She was right. I'd been rolling the dough rather thin to get it to the right size.

Rather than doing that, this time I increased the amount of dough used. And, rather than relying on skill to roll to a specific thickness, I relied on my kitchen scale. After some experimentation, I ended up using 100 grams per piece of dough. I'd roll it out into 6-inch circles.

Each bun used two pieces of this dough. On the bottom piece, I put a small stack of the ham-and-cheese filling. I left a half-inch all around.

Then, I put the second rolled-out circle on top and sealed the two together by pinching and rolling. When I put the finished bun onto the parchment-lined baking sheet, I turned it over to hide the seam.

Again, 15-20 minutes at 350F (175C). When the bun comes out of the oven, immediately transfer it to a cooling rack and brush the top with melted butter.

Test Results

Primary Test Group: Marasa, very good. Eaten up quickly.

Test Group C: Liked very much. In fact, while we were sitting there talking, we popped open the bun intended for Test Group J and ate it, too.

Test Group M: Still waiting for feedback. Will post when I have it.

Potential Improvements

Better filling. The ham that I was able to buy was more like sandwich meat and not a good ham. And, while Cheez Whiz has better flavor than the other cheese-like products I used, I want better. I'm thinking a medium Cheddar with maybe a little grated Parmesan.

Since better ham isn't available locally, I'm probably going to have to learn to make it. I'm hoping I can get away with a wet method as I don't have a smoke house. Although, this is a nice excuse to build one!

If not ham, Canadian Bacon. Like ham, but made from the loin rather than a hind leg.

I'd really love a honey-baked-like ham. That would just be great.


As I said in the first post, this bread seems bullet-proof. The range of fillings that can go into it are nearly infinite. Going to have fun trying combinations.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Banana Bread Test Results

A few days ago, I posted about some banana bread that I made. So yummy, brought back good memories. Well, the results are in from the various tasters.

Test Results

Test Group C: Wanted more to "properly test".

Test Group J: Quite good.

Test Group M: Delicious.

Random Test Group: I took a loaf to a meeting I had. Everyone loved it.

I do so like it when my work is appreciated. It feeds my not-so-inconsequential ego.


Ah, Snickerdoodles. Such great cookies. They have a taste that reminds many of good pancakes. And yet, you can hold them in your hand, take them with you, eat them piles at a time next to the ocean.

OK, you can do that with any cookie. I guess I just love Snickerdoodles. So, when my mom asked me to make some, I obliged.

How could I say no? Not only did she ask, but she provided the recipe. It's nice when people make it so easy for you.

Cookie Dough
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1-1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 2-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons cream of tartar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Mix the butter, shortening, and sugar well. Make sure that they are thoroughly whipped together. Takes a few minutes in the mixer on medium.

Then, add the eggs and vanilla extract. Mix thoroughly again.

Finally, add the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt. Blend well, but not too long. Stop when the dough is smooth and appears that everything is well mixed in. Mixing too long will start to form gluten. That would be bad. These cookies have a somewhat cake-like texture that would be destroyed by gluten production. A crime in many countries!

Here's the hard part: chill the dough in your fridge for at least two hours. Yes, you have to wait. Go watch TV. Go sleep. Just put it in and walk away. Your patience will be rewarded.

The dough tends to be very sticky unless refrigerated. Very hard to work with. Here in the Philippines, the dough is nearly impossible to work with unless chilled well.

You can pass a little of the time while waiting for your cookie goodness by making the cinnamon coating.

Cinnamon Coating
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
Put both into a small bowl and mix thoroughly. You want to mix until it is the same color all through.

Putting It All Together

Hopefully, it's a couple of hours later and your dough is chilled by now. Preheat your oven to 400F (200C). Get out your dough.

In the picture, you can see some dough that had been allowed to get too warm. It was very difficult to work with. Very sticky and soft. So, be sure to chill the dough thoroughly! In a high heat environment like here in the Philippines, take out enough dough for each batch and leave the rest in your fridge.

For each cookie, scoop out a small piece of dough about 2 tablespoons in size. I measured each piece to be 50 grams on my kitchen scale (love that thing!). Roll it between your hands into a nice ball. Then completely cover the ball in the cinnamon-sugar mixture.

Place the cookies a couple of inches apart on a baking sheet. I use parchment paper. A silicone baking sheet will work great, too.

Bake for 8 minutes. Yes, that's not a range of time. Bake for 8 minutes. And longer and you end up with burnt nasty cookies. Eight, 8, ocho ... minutes.

When they come out of the oven, take them off the baking sheet immediately. You do not want the bottoms to continue to get all that heat. Remember, there's a cinnamon-sugar coating on it. That will burn and taste horrid.

You can see in the picture to the left that the cookies grew together. That's because the batch was with dough that was not chilled enough. The cookies spread out too much because the dough was soft to begin with. Still, they were delicious!

Here are the final products packaged and ready to go to the testers ...

Test Results

Primary Test Group: Consumed with zeal. Loved the cookies and demanded more.

Test Group C: Marasa (tastes good). Had the usual complaint that I did not deliver enough of the test food for them to enjoy. When asked how many I should bring next time, reply was "two dozen".

Test Group J: Very good first batch. Cookies were a bit too soft and crumbled. Still, delicious.

Test Group M: Very good. Enjoyed. Wanted more.

Potential Improvements

Chill the dough more. Only bring out enough dough for each batch while forming the cookies and baking.


Winner. As far as I could tell, everyone liked these.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Banana Bread

When I was a boy, my mom would make delicious banana bread. I was craving that this week. Coincidentally, my mom had some frozen overripe bananas.

  • 112g (1/2 cup) butter
  • 120g (3/4 cup) turbinado sugar
  • 620g (2 cups) overripe bananas
  • 2 eggs
  • 260g (2 cups) all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 90g (1 cup) whole walnuts


Put the butter and sugar into a blender and cream them until a nice light yellow color. This takes between two to five minutes depending on your butter (soft or room temperature butter gets into the nice cream state faster). It's important to cream the butter well, so don't skip this.

Add the eggs and mashed bananas to your creamed sugar/butter and blend shortly to mix. Scrape down the sides of the bowl well to ensure that everything gets mixed in well.

Add the flour, salt, and baking soda. Again, mix for a short time and at a low speed just to blend the ingredients. You don't want to beat them too much. At this point, you want to avoid creating gluten by overmixing.

Finally, add the walnuts. Just fold them into to disperse evenly.

You should end up with a batter that looks like something from the set of a horror movie. Yes, it should be goopy and look like it will never turn into anything delicious. But, trust me, it does.

I cooked these at 350F (180C). I used my silicone small loaf pans. The recipe was initially intended for a 9x5 standard loaf pan. I knew I needed to give some out to my testing teams, so I went with the smaller pan. A half loaf per team.

I shot the pans with a quick hit of cooking spray to make sure they release easily. Notice that I put the silicone pan onto a baking sheet. Since the silicone is flexible, it doesn't like to be picked up easily. The baking sheet takes all the hassle away.

In a 9x5 loaf pan, you want to cook this for 60-70 minutes. In the small pans, 35-45 minutes. Basically do the usual: stick a toothpick into the center, if the toothpick comes out clean, they're done.

Another easy way to tell is when the surface starts to change color. It's hard to explain what the correct color is ... I just know it's "right". So, perhaps using a toothpick is better unless you grew up with your mom baking these blocks of banana goodness for you.

When done, take them out of the oven. I let them sit for about ten minutes before taking them out of the loaf pans. They popped out without any complaint. Love that silicone!

Eat plain. Or, as I like to: spread on some butter. Don't be shy about it. Oh so good.

Test Results

Results are only in from the Primary Test Group right now. Universally well-liked. Only one minor comment (from my mom, no less) that the bread was a little too slimy. I pointed out to her that the bananas she supplied were quite overripe (as in black). She thought that was a good point. Still, she very much liked the result.

Samples are going out to Test Groups C, J, M, and Z today.

Potential Improvements

Traditionally, we've made banana bread from bananas that have become too ripe to simply eat by themselves. It occurred to me that maybe we could make bread from simply ripe bananas ... ones that we might eat. Those are certainly easier to get here in the Philippines. The mercado (open air market) has a section devoted to bananas. It's not a small section. If figure we could put those bananas through a potato ricer.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Rotten Banana Trick

OK, more like overripe banana trick. That didn't sound as cool for a title.

This I learned from my mom: if you have bananas that are past the stage where you'll eat them, but before they go bad, freeze them. They'll keep for a long, long time and be in perfect condition for banana bread.

And, that's it. Pretty simple and exceedingly effective. I found out today that most of the banana bread I enjoyed as a kid was made with frozen overripe bananas. We'd have one or two bananas from a bunch that had ripened too much. So, she would freeze them and save them. When she had enough for bread, she'd make it.

Pretty clever of her. I must steal more of her cooking secrets.

By the way, as I type this, I have a batch of banana bread in the oven ...

In The Pipeline ...

Wow, has it really been since Friday that I've written anything. Anyone who knows me know that I rarely have little to say. This weekend flew past and this week is doing the same. So, thought I'd drop a line and my multitudes of readers know what I'm doing.

First, there's the New York Times chocolate chip cookie recipe that's flooding the net. I, too, am going to bake a batch. I now have chocolate chips and am going to hit the mixer soon. Just need to get some room temperature butter.

I'm also looking at Snickerdoodles, a childhood favorite and a request from the woman who made them for me then (my mom). Hopefully my son will like them as much as I do. I'm going to try to make large ones to encourage multiple textures within each cookie (crunchy outside, chewy center).

Char siu dim sum pastries. Basically, Chinese BBQ pork with extra sauce wrapped in a flaky pasty dough with sesame seeds on top. Making flaky dough from scratch in this heat will be a unique challenge.

Chinese egg tarts. Another dim sum favorite. This should be easier than the BBQ pork pastries. Still, I've never made them and am apprehensive about how they'll turn out. Let's hope well.

Another BBQ sauce challenge. This time, we'll level the playing field by adding a little extra vinegar to the Wright's Liquid smoke version. The girls liked how the Stubb's was a little sweeter.

Canadian bacon. I've located some food grade plastic 5-gallon buckets. I have the saltpeter. Now I just need a whole pork loin.

There's a lot more on the Must Cook List. These are just what's at the top.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Barbecue Pork Buns

Back in late May, Tina at Mommy's Kitchen posted a recipe for Bacon Cheeseburger Buns. Oh my, they looked good. I knew I had to make some. My sous chef, James Jr., wanted to help. How could I resist?

So, I set about making the filling for the buns. Since I had a bunch of BBQ sauce from my Barbecue Sauce Showdown, I figured that I'd make some BBQ pork buns. How can you go wrong with that, right?

Pork Filling
  • 1 kg pork tenderloin
  • 3/4 cup chopped onion
  • 4 cups BBQ sauce
Fortunately, pork tenderloin is very reasonably priced here (about P220 per kilo right now, that's about US$2.30 per pound). So, I get to cook with it a lot. I cut up a kilo of pork tenderloin into small pieces and diced a few small Philippine onions.

I tossed the pork and onion into an oven-safe dish and mixed them together thoroughly. I then added enough of the BBQ sauce to cover (this should be about half of the BBQ sauce). Again, I mixed the sauce in thoroughly. While messy, I find doing this with your hands works best. You can cover everything very well that way. Baked at 275F (135C) for about an hour. Stirring every 15 minutes.

Once out of the oven, strain the pork and onions of the juices in the dish. Let cool. Once lukewarm, add the remaining BBQ sauce. This helps boost the BBQ flavor of the dish.

  • 2 cups milk
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 3-1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 6 cups all-purpose flour
  • Melted butter (to brush finished rolls)
Heat the milk in a sauce pan over a low flame. Heat until small bubbles begin to form (steam will start coming off just before this phase). Once up to heat, turn off the flame. Add the 1/2 cup of butter and sugar, stir until both are dissolved. Allow this mixture to cool until lukewarm.

Once cooled, add the yeast, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and four cups of the flour. Mix everything together. Then, add a half cup at a time of the remaining flour until all ingredients are combined thoroughly. Knead for 8-10 minutes. I used the bread hook on my stand mixer. I found that I had to add a little more flour (about a half cup) to get the right consistency. The dough should feel silky and not sticky.

Get a large bowl, give it a quick spray with some oil. Let the dough rise in a warm place until doubled. Once of the nice things about living in the Philippines is that every place is warm enough for dough to rise.

Once risen, punch it down and divide into twelve equal pieces. I used a digital kitchen scale to do this. Made the job easy and accurate.

The recipe from Mommy's Kitchen called for rolling each of these pieces into a round, putting filling on top, and then putting a second round piece of dough on top of it all, sealing it up, and baking it. OK, easy enough.

I did that with a test bun. We ended up with these monster, plate-filling buns. Seemed a bit too big to me. So, I cut each of the eleven remaining pieces in half, and rolled those halves out. I rolled them out fairly then, to about 1/8 inch thick.

I then spread a layer of the pork filling onto one of the rolled out pieces, leaving approximately a one inch border around the filling to allow me to seal the bun. I placed the second rolled out piece on top of the piece with the filling and pinched-then-rolled all the way around the outside, sealing the two together. Be careful here, as you don't want to squeeze the insides and cause a BBQ sauce geyser. Trust me on this.

Once sealed, gently pick up your ready-to-cook stuffed bun, turn it over, and place it on a parchment-lined baking sheet. You'll want to neaten up the bun a little, get it to be more round. You can easily do this just by pressing inwards on the outside of it. Very easy. Six will fit comfortably on a half-sized baking sheet. Cover the buns with a towel and let them sit for about 30 minutes to rise a second time.

Put your buns in the oven for 15-20 minutes at 350F (175C). You want them to look slightly cooked, but not getting too brown. When you take the buns out, immediately brush them liberally with melted butter (this is what gives them that gorgeous brown color on top).

Let them cool to the point where you aren't going to scorch your mouth ... then devour accordingly.

Test Results

Primary Test Group: well liked. The liquid smoke used in the BBQ sauce was a flavor not exactly liked by a couple of testers, even though it was very, very mild. Still, buns were eaten quickly and without hesitation.

Test Group M: Winner. Eaten quickly.

Test Group C: Marasa. Only one complaint ... I didn't bring enough testing material. Next time they want more.

Potential Improvements

Next time, I'll marinate the pork overnight in the BBQ sauce. That will provide even more of the flavor.

Potential Variations

I definitely want to make a bacon cheeseburger version like on Mommy's Kitchen. I also want to try ham-and-cheese. Unfortunately, finding good ham here is hard. I may have to make my own.


Definitely a great base recipe. Tastes good, relatively easy, dough seems bullet-proof.

Thanks Tina!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Shepherd's Pie

Everyone has their favorite comfort foods. For me, the ultimate comfort food is a Dick's cheeseburger. Still, shepherd's pie comes close.

Is this a beautiful dish? One worthy of being put into some gourmet coffee table book? No.

Is it satisfying and good to eat? Will it fill you up and remind you of a happy childhood? Absolutely.

It's really a very simple dish and open to wide variation. I suspect that what one likes and what one expects in Shepherd's Pie depends upon what one's mother made.

My mom made it with ground beef and few vegetables. So, that's how I made this batch. Although, I didn't add as much liquid to the meat as I normally would. And, I didn't completely drain the beef of its fat after browning. Both are things I normally do and both are things I regret not doing.

  • 1 kg ground beef
  • 1 very large carrot, diced
  • 4 small onions, diced
  • 1 tablespoon beef broth crystals (I brought these from the states, they're like cubes, just crystals)
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
As you can see, very, very simple ingredients for the meat. Honestly, you can put in whatever you like. Some people like sliced or chopped beef. Some add more veggies. It's really purely based on taste.

I put the ground beet, carrots, and onions all in a large frying pan and browned the beef. I scooped out about 80% of the fat. I then added the broth crystals and Worcestershire sauce.

This produced a nice beef mixture. It wasn't exceptional and was fairly dry. But, I was in a hurry at the time and didn't have the opportunity to really do much more.

I put the beef mixture into the bottom of some baking dishes (some were going to my test subjects for tasting). I pressed the meat mixture down a slightly. Then, I put a layer of the mashed potatoes on top.

The spiral pattern you see in the picture was just made with a spatula. Some folks like to make peaks with a fork. Again, 100% personal taste.

I put these in the oven at 400F (180C) for 40 minutes. I shut off the oven. I then took them out and grated some sharp cheddar cheese on top. I love this, so I put on a lot.

I tossed them back into the now-shut-off oven for about 5 minutes to melt the cheese. Oh, so good. And, done!

Test Results

Primary Test Group: "very good", "marasa" (Waray Waray for delicious). Eaten very quickly.

Test Group M: Fail. I believe they expected a different version of Shepherd's Pie. Wetter, chopped meat not ground, more veggies, etc. Too much cheese.

Test Group C: "delicious". Also eaten very quickly.


A good batch. Just needs more work. The potatoes weren't great and the meat mixture needed more work. I won't be accidentally freezing potatoes anymore. And, I'll definitely make more gravy with the meat next time.

I happen to prefer ground meat in this to chopped or sliced meat. So, I won't be giving into Test Group M's demands for that. Although, I've been informed that Test Group M plans to make a batch for me to try so that I can make it properly for them in the future.

Such gall! Hehe.

Iced Potatoes

Last weekend, I'd planned to make some Shepherd's Pie. Very yummy stuff. We'd prepared and boiled the potatoes and then needed to take a family member to the hospital (everything is fine now).

So, I did what any normal person would do, put the potatoes into the fridge. You know, that really nifty fridge/freezer I just posted about. Well, we'd just plugged it in and I turned it to fridge mode. Hooray! The potatoes will be fine until I get to mash them into fluffy goodness.

Or, so I thought. Little did I know that a small black button that was depressed meant "quick freeze". See, the controls are in Spanish. I don't speak or read Spanish. And, it didn't occur to me that there would even be a quick freeze option.

I check the potatoes the following morning and find them to be frozen solid. Really solid. Harder than I'd ever seen anything frozen outside of a lab where we were playing with liquid nitrogen solid.


This is when I discovered the button and took the fridge/freezer out of super freeze mode.

I left the cut and boiled potatoes in the fridge for another 24 hours. It took that long for them to get to the point where I could start to work with them. I could tell immediately that there was a problem.

See, like any critic of cryogenics will tell you, freezing does bad, bad things to cellular walls. They get a bit damaged. The potatoes were watery. Still, I didn't want to just toss 2.5kg of potatoes.

I went to work. First, the basics, I popped them into my stand mixer and let them have it with the blade attachment. My little stand mixer is a 20 quart Hobart. Takes at least two strong people to pick it up. Three is better. Once, for Christmas, I made twelve dozen chocolate chip cookies in a single batch. The mixer didn't even seem to notice. Oh, I love it.

Anyway, as usual, I digress. Needless to say, those potatoes got seriously beaten.

I was wrong about them being watery. They were very watery. These potatoes were begging me to feed them to our pigs. I wasn't about to give up so easily.

I toss the mashed watery potatoes into strainers for let them sit there for a couple of hours.

The potatoes didn't disappoint me. They gave up a lot of liquid. A lot.

Unfortunately, they still had a strange texture. An unacceptable texture. I had more work to do. So, I got a nice pot and dumped the miscreant potatoes into it. Their punishment for being watery wasn't over.

Twenty minutes of stirring, a lot of evaporation, a lot of butter and some seasoning later ... and I had mashed potatoes that were acceptable for use as a topping on Shepherd's Pie.

Please note: I did not say "good", "great", "fluffy", I said "acceptable".

Even so, I'd won. I'd managed to save the potatoes from being pig food.

Love My Freezer ... um, Fridge ... Both

We have between seven and ten people living here at the house at any given time. Our fridge just wasn't enough to hold everything that we need. And, the upright freezer we had was less than pathetic. Not to mention that in the heat here, every time we opened the freezer all the cold air would fall out and be replaced with 25-degree Celcius meat-defrosting nastiness.

So, a trip to the appliance store was in order. Oh, they had a sea of appliances that said "buy us, buy us". Yes, I do love gadgets and buying them. Even big, white gadgets.

I, of course, want to buy the biggest chest freezer there. My wife, Joan, thought maybe that was a little excessive. We managed to come to a compromise where we'd buy a smaller unit and buy a second one if needed.

What we did buy was seriously nifty. It will function as both a refrigerator and a freezer. I insisted on the chest configuration because of its efficiency and how it doesn't let tons of hot air in when you open it.

Since I want to try making some wet-cured ham, having the wide range of adjustment is great.

I know, seems like a small thing. Yeah, it is a small thing. Still, I like it.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Requiem for a Cell Phone

My beloved Nokia N95 suffered screen-death two days ago. I rely so much on my phone these days. Pictures, notes, texting friends (here in the Philippines, most people just text, it's dirt cheap and easy). I use it daily. All of the pictures I've taken for this site and my other site (My Tacloban) were taken with my N95.

First, it started going green, shifting its little face around. Finally, the screen just went black. Oh, the humanity!

It wasn't brain-dead. I was about to plug the phone into life support (otherwise known as my computer) and drain its contents onto my hard drive. So, it's brain and heart were alive and ticking. Just that it couldn't show itself to the world.

So, I took the phone to the electronic emergency room and begged them to fix it and bring it back to life! OK, I actually said something to the effect of "I believe it's under warranty, what are our options?" I was told it was going to have to be shipped to Manila and that I'd be without the phone for a month.

A MONTH?!?! OK, that's just not going to happen. Well, it's going to happen. In fact, it's likely to take two months. At least the phone is under warranty and the repair is free. However, I am not going to be without a phone for two months.

So, what beckoned to me at the store? The nifty Nokia N95 8G. Oh, it's black and steel and shiny and has a bigger screen, more memory, and a longer battery life. The buttons work better, the slide feels nicer.

It called to me like the mythical harpies callings ships to their doom. I heeded its siren song and my credit card fell victim to its price (approximately P29,000).

I am happy again. When my beloved Nokia N95 returns from Manila, it will discover that I have an even more beloved Novia N95 8G doing its work.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Onion ... Meet The Garlic Press

My mom was craving a good salad dressing. I don't like to disappoint my mom, so I made an Asian vinaigrette for her.

I looked at the recipe and noticed that it called for a tablespoon of chopped onion. OK, I knew what that meant for this ... it meant seriously minced. And, to be honest, it was really hot out, I was tired, and I didn't feel like taking even the short amount of time to cleanly chopify the onion.

Since the recipe already called for some garlic, I had the garlic press out. So, I cut up the onion I needed and crammed it through the garlic press.

I was happily surprised with the results. First, the texture of the resulting onion mash was the same as the pressed garlic. So, the dressing didn't have various textures in it. Just the liquid and the garlic/onion mash. I like that because I want the dressing to interfere as little as possible (aside from taste) with the salad on which I'm pouring it.

Second, I was amazed at the amount of onion flavor present. I guess I shouldn't have been. The pressing process brought out a lot of onion juice and exposed a lot more surface area of the onion material.

Next time I make this dressing, I'll use half the onion listed. And, I'll post it ...

Monday, July 7, 2008

Industrial Burger

A friend of mine passed along a link to the Bionic Burger web site. I couldn't believe what I saw! Burgers lasting for years without growing mold and other nastiness?

Take a look at their video. Holy cow!

Do I believe it? Not sure. Am I tempted to start collecting a few McDonald's burgers from the local store? Possibly.

If true, this is hard-core industrial food. Good tasting hard-core industrial food. But, hard-core industrial food, none-the-less. Not sure I'm so keen on McDonald's after seeing this video.

While I'm pretty sure that McDonald's isn't using Kobe or Wagyu beef. I'm also pretty sure that they're not using the worst of what's available.

Notice there's a link to a web site in the video. It leads to a pay site for wellness. That makes me a bit skeptical about this whole thing.

That fact doesn't invalidate my desire to get away from industrial food as much as I can. It just makes this video and their claims less credible.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Baked Char Siu Bao - First Draft

I love Dim Sum. I mean, I really love Dim Sum. Not just a little, either. Did I say that I loved it?

So, I'm trying to learn how to make it. I have no illusion that I won't make it as well as those fabulous restaurants in Hong Kong. Still, I'm pretty sure I can make it well enough to get me through those long periods between going to a restaurant that specializes in some Dim Sum goodness.

I've very happy with my ability to make Nor Mai Gai. And, I'll make it here, soon. My taste buds need their fix.

However, I missed the baked hum bow that I would get in Seattle. So, I've started to try to recreate it here. Pictured above are my first attempts at Baked Char Siu Bao. Char Siu refers to the Chinese BBQ pork inside these buns. Bao, from what I understand, just means bun. And baked ... well, means baked (as opposed to steamed).

A couple of the girls here at the house looked at me funny when I put the buns on the oven. Filipinos make a similar dish called siopao (sho-POW). But, they only steam it. No baking. A shame, as baked breads are yummy.

I'll have more when I get better at this recipe.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Wow, Big Bug!

This isn't a post about food.  Just about this really big butterfly that took up residence on the wall of our car port.  It's eight inches from one bitten-off wingtip to the other.  Just huge.

Very cool!

If anyone knows what kind of butterfly this is, please let me know.

Friday, July 4, 2008

The Results Are In

After a city-wide poll of thousands and thousands of people, the results are in from the Barbecue Sauce Challenge. And, the answer is? Depends.

Yup, there are two distinct schools of taste here. First, the girls. They liked the sweeter sauce. The Stubb's Mesquite-Flavored Liquid Smoke contains vinegar and is, as such, sweeter than the Wright's Liquid Smoke. So, this was the favorite among the girls. In fact, not just favorite, it was unanimous.

The other group, the boys, preferred the richer smoke but less sweet flavor of the sauce made with the Wright's Liquid Smoke. Again, unanimous.

What does this mean to me? I have more testing to do. The first obvious test is to test the Wright's base version against Wright's with a little extra vinegar. Also, Test the Wright's plus extra vinegar recipe against the Stubb's Mesquite.

Another test I'd like to try is varying the vinegar used. Right now, I'm using a distilled white vinegar made from coconuts. Hey, it's the Philippines, it's cheap and plentiful. I'm thinking apple cider vinegar instead.

There are also a couple other kinds of sugars here. Stuff I've never played with. I'll be testing those, too.

This sauce experimentation isn't over. Lots to try.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Barbecue Sauce Showdown

As promised, I made some barbecue sauce to test out the Stubb's liquid smoke products and compare them to Wright's liquid smoke. I made my normal big batch (recipe below) and divided it into three parts. I added the appropriate amount of liquid smoke to each batch and labeled it so only I knew which smoke was where.

To my taste, there's a clear winner among the three. However, I will not announce it here or to anyone else until I get input from my usual guinea pigs ... otherwise known as my friends and family.

I think you can see in the picture that mine is no artisan kitchen. No fancy special-purpose bottles. Just old, washed-out Coke Zero bottles with masking tape labels. I know, Coke Zero is definitely industrial food. I said I wasn't a zealot.

So, onto the recipe for the barbecue sauce. I've used this recipe for a while. However, it has undergone some modification since I got to the Philippines. Here in Tacloban they don't have what we (in the States) call brown sugar. So, I use what they call brown sugar ... which is what we would call turbinado sugar.

Here are the ingredients:
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups distilled white vinegar
  • 1 cup molasses
  • 3 cups light corn syrup
  • 2 cups tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup turbinado sugar
  • 1/4 cup liquid smoke
  • 2 tbs salt
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tbs black pepper
  • 1 tbs sweet paprika
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
Since I was going to use three different liquid smokes, I left that out at first. What I do is put the water, vinegar, sugar, salt, and spices into a large, wide pot and heat them up over a low flame, whisking them together well. If I weren't comparing the liquid smokes, I'd add that ingredient now, too.

Then, I add the molasses. Since the molasses likes to stick to the measuring cup, I dip the cup into the warm liquid to help it dissolve without having to get out a spoon or some kind of scraper. One less thing to clean. I do the same thing with the corn syrup.

Yes, corn syrup. I'm painfully aware that I've ranted about it. I keep meaning to do some tests to create a replacement for it using local cane sugars. I will. Really.

Finally, I turn up the heat a bit to medium and add the tomato paste. I wisk this in thoroughly.

Once everything is melded well, I turn up the flame to medium-high and wisk constantly to reduce the sauce. There's no right amount to reduce. It all depends on taste. I tend to like to reduce quite a ways to produce a thicker sauce. Although, by no means do I go so far as to get down to level of commercial sauces.

When you've reduced it to the thickness desired, take it off the heat. Continue to wisk for a minute or so to prevent burning. Remember, this sauce has a lot of sugars in it. If they burn, it's bad. Very bad.

Once cool, put it into a container and refrigerate. I find this sauce goes very well on beef, pork, chicken, and turkey. Yields about two quarts of sauce.

The New Yummy Is Here!

The new Yummy Magazine was in the store today! And, of course, I have a copy.

I love Yummy. It was the first food magazine I found here in the Philippines. I'd cut my teeth on Gourmet and, after it started being an advertisement catalog with a few recipes, moved onto the far, far better Cooks Illustrated.

The magazine is slick and bright. Pictures are great and really make the recipes look appetizing. I especially like the pictorials of shopping in Manila. Of course, that's the problem "in Manila".

Often, for me, Yummy isn't a source of recipes. There are too many recipes in the magazine that require ingredients that are difficult or impossible to buy locally. But, that doesn't mean I don't buy the magazine religiously every month.

It's a great source of inspiration for me. Looking at the pictures, reading what other foodies are doing (much like other blogs that I read). This is where the magazine more than pays for its meager cost for me. P95 cover price (about US$2.15).

Recipes in this issue that I want to try:
  • Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies. The author calls for vanilla, which sounds like an interesting choice. Of course, sans cranberries (I'm not a fan). Page 28.

  • Cheese Fondue. OK, this one had me laughing in frustration. I love cheese. I loved melted cheese. Used car tires would taste good with melted cheese on them. So, I scan the ingredients and what do I see? Emmental cheese. Good? Oh yes. Available within 300 kilometers? Oh no. This recipe is telling me to try to make a halfway decent fondue using the local cheese blocks (Eden, Quickmelt, Kraft "Cheddar" ... in all three cases, think less flavorful Velveeta). That'll be a fun challenge. Page 31.

  • Homemade Mushroom and Cheese Ravioli with Tomato Sauce. Fortunately, my mouth is dry today, otherwise I would've drooled all over this page. That looks and sounds so good. Only problem? The recipe uses cottage cheese. I recently figured out how to make a reasonable ricotta substitute. I'll use that. Page 45.

  • Spiced Pound Cake with Apples in Warm Caramel Sauce. Just the name says "warning: sugar rush ahead". Yeah, it's a good thing. Getting reasonable apples will require the right timing (sometimes we have them, mostly we don't). And, I can't just hit Gaisano and buy caramel sauce ... but, that's another excuse to experiment. Page 46.

There are definitely lots more recipes this month. Those are just the ones that really caught my eye and demanded that I find a way to make them.

I had a good laugh with one recipe. "Cook 1 package prosciutto and cheese tortellini". Oh, that's rich. Packaged pasta ... here? Hahaha. If you hear a little pain in that laughter, you'd be correct. Sure would be nice sometimes.

Then again, that might take the fun out it.

I'm An Idiot ... Or, Pay Attention To Your Ingredients

For years, I've made red sauces, spaghetti sauces, pizza sauces, chili sauces, etc., etc., etc. And, for years, I've generally used either tomato sauce or tomato puree. And, for years, I just didn't think about the difference.

I knew that if I used puree that I had to add a little more to the mixture to bring up the flavor. But, that I preferred tomato puree to tomato sauce and used it whenever I could.

Yes, yes, I know what you're thinking: for years, I've been an idiot. Just didn't even think about what I was using. Yes, there's a real difference between tomato sauce and tomato puree. Like, um, ingredients and stuff?

What brought about this miraculous revelation? I was getting read to do my promised comparison between the various liquid smokes when making a barbecue sauce. Since I'm trying to move away from as many processed foods as possible, I thought that I'd use tomato sauce rather than tomato paste in the recipe, adjusting the added water, of course.

So, I'm looking at the calorie contents of the two, because the only difference is that tomato paste has less water, right? Oh, look, tomato sauce has ingredients. (insert long dramatic pause) Oops.

Fortunately, I prefer to do my research before starting. So, no food was ruined. My ego was the only casualty here.

Yes, tomato sauce makes a terrible replacement for the combination of tomato paste and water. Why? Because of those pesky ingredients in tomato sauce like vinegar, sugar, salt, and other things which just aren't in "100% tomatoes", as is the ingredient list of tomato paste.

I really need to learn to read.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Cane Sugary Goodness

I was at my friend Curtis' canteen today. He and his wife, Flor, run an eatery for the local college kids. Good food on the cheap.

I saw in their cooler these two bottles of soda. Royal is, as its color heavily implies, an orange soda. A very orange-y, very sweet orange soda. I love it.

Sparkle, the local discount soda, is a lemon soda. Not so sweet, but very satisfying and not very hard on the wallet. The pictured 240 ml bottle, about 8 oz., is just P8 most places. That's just US$0.18. Inexpensive, but yummy!

Both are made with cane sugar. Both taste better than any other sodas I've had in the States. Even the Sparkle is better.

So, just say no to HFCS. Say yes to cane sugar. Or, at the very least, say yes to sugar from sugar beets.

And, if you can get either where you live ... try these sodas. You'll be glad you did.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Country-Style Sausage Making

I've been yearning for some (American) country-style breakfast sausage for a while now. Given that I have my nifty new stuffing plate, I hit the kitchen tonight.

I picked up some ground pork. It was a bit fatty today. That's OK. Pork fat makes things taste good. So, with that, here are the ingredients:
  • 1 kg ground pork (approximately 30% fat)
  • 1 tbs salt
  • 1 tbs freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tbs dried sage, crumbled fine
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
A pretty classic recipe of which there are hundreds on the web. I like a bit more flavor in my sausage, so I upped the sage and black pepper a little bit over some of the other recipes. I'm glad that I did.

I do something slightly different when making it. I mix all the ingredients, except the pork, together into a kind of paste. I think that this makes it easier to get a consistent distribution without a lot of mixing. Using a small whisk, I whip the water, spices, and other dry ingredients together to ensure an even distribution of all.

I first mix the pork briefly by hand in my mixer's bowl. Before you work with the pork, it should be cold. That prevents the fat from melting. You want the fat to melt when you cook, not when you're first making the sausage itself.

I put the mixture into my stand mixer on the very lowest setting for 30-40 seconds. That's it. That's all that's required. Very easy. I could do it by hand. But, tonight, I just didn't feel like it. Also, doing it by hand requires a little more care. I can refrigerate the mixer parts. It's difficult to get my hands down in temperature (to avoid melting the fat) without serious pan and potential medical issues. You know, frostbite and that kind of thing.

Once mixed, I really suggest cooking up a little sample. As much as we hate to admit it, cooking isn't exactly a precise science. Sometimes ingredients vary, sometimes we vary (measuring off a little, buying a different brand of spice, etc.). You need to taste the food. With the sausage, just take a tablespoon or two and fry it quickly on the stove. If you find your seasoning is off, try to adjust and repeat the sampling process. I suggest putting the sausage into the fridge for 20 minutes or so between each adjustment to ensure that it stays cold and fat stays solid. A bit long? Maybe. But, why muck up a perfectly good bit of sausage because of impatience?

Once you know it's good, wrap it up and stick it in the fridge. It'll keep a few days. If your family is like mine, it won't last that long.