Monday, September 29, 2008

Healthy Adult Oatmeal Bars

Oh yes, healthy. That's what we all want to try to eat. We want our friends to eat healthy. We want ourselves to eat healthy. We, especially, want our kids to eat healthy.

My son loves chocolate. That, in itself, isn't so bad. Trouble is, he craves those really nasty chocolate goo-covered sponge cake industrial garbage wrapped in plastic. I'm currently on a quest to find something we can make, something easy hopefully (and this recipe is EASY!), that he won't trade away at snack time for some crunchy chocolate cookies with strawberry frosting and bits of concentrated sugar sprinkles.

I snagged this recipe from Katy at Sugarlaws. I was feeling a bit lazy tonight and the recipe was so easy to do. I liked the sound of it.

  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons / 100g oats
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 4 tablespoons corn syrup
  • 1 egg white
  • 1/2 cup / 50g raisins
  • 3 tablespoons / 20g pistachios, shelled and chopped
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil


This one is so very easy. Just set your oven to 325F (163C).

Mix all the ingredients together well. They should all hold together, sort of, but there should be no excess liquid. If there's extra, add a little bit more oats and stir. Repeat until no liquid.

I poured my mixture into one of my silicone tart pans. These made perfect molds. The original recipe said it made eight small bars. I figured I'd just chop these in half to make reasonably sized servings. I am trying to make something healthy here. Excessive size is almost as bad as sugar death bomb cakes.

Into the oven for 35 minutes.

Done. Like I said, so easy!

Test Results

Primary Test Group: Only a partial group tonight. Various members are out and about. This is probably good because I cannot imagine the look of disdain on my son's face if I asked him to eat these.

Honestly, I like them. They remind me of Boy Scouts many, many years ago. It gives your mouth a workout much like raw celery does. You know you're eating something of substance and something that tastes good. There is something very satisfying about this.

The batch didn't make enough to have for other testers. Probably good, anyway. I'm not sure these would be to their liking, either.

Potential Improvements

Not sure were to go. I think a little sugar would go a long ways with these. The honey just didn't cut it. Brown sugar, of course.


I won't make these again. Since I'm the only one here who would eat them, not worth my time.

These are definitely for hard-core granola eaters. They're not sweet or gooey ... nor are there thick chunks of chocolate in them.

What they are is good, solid food that provides great nutrition.

Honestly, this kind of food is what we should be eating. Trouble is, it just doesn't taste good enough ...

And therein lies my problem. I need to find something nutritious that will also please the five year old palette. Unfortunately, this isn't it.

If it were just me, I'd play with these a little, but keep making them.

Golf Cookies

This weekend was the Annual President's Cup golf tournament for the Rotary Club to which I belong. I'd messed up my back a bit the previous weekend, so I wasn't playing. Had a ticket anyway so I could go for some of the lovely prizes. No luck ... again.

Anyway, it's been my habit to cook or bake something and take it to the major tournaments. Once I took eggs, Mexican chorizo, and homemade tortillas. That managed to live for three hours. Another time I made 36 Nor Mai Gai (actually, 41, but left some at home) and took them up. These lasted a whopping four hours. Mostly because I came early and the players weren't ready for lunch.

This time, it was cookies. I made chocolate chip cookies (the NYT recipe, minus the 36-hour wait period), some peanut butter cookies (using some of my homemade peanut butter), and some basic oatmeal raisin cookies (using the recipe off of the Quaker Oats can).

My plan was to take up three half-sized baking sheets of cookies. 270-300 cookies. Shouldn't take too long, right?

WRONG! I haven't cooked larger amounts of cookies since I was back in the US. There I had three pizza ovens that accepted two full-sized baking sheets each. Since I put 40 cookies on a full-sized sheet, that means 240 cookies at a time. So, an hour of baking, tops.

I'm too old to be this naive. Since I could only do one sheet at a time, I was there stuffing sheets into the oven for four hours. Oops. That will teach me to forget, again, about some things.

Anyway, I had a good time. The cookies were demolished. 270 in total. 60 oatmeal raisin, 60 peanut butter, and 150 chocolate chip.

Had a minor scare when my two empty trays vanished. Turns out, the caterers thought the baking sheets were theirs. A couple quick "where are my trays?" yielded their freedom.

Glossary and Cast of Characters

A few people have expressed interest in a few details about the locals, the test teams, certain words, etc. So, here's a brief explanation of each (in alphabetical order). This is both a glossary and a cast of characters. I'll add to it as needed.

Barkadas: Friends.

Big Iron: (click on picture to the right for a larger one) This is my 20 quart Hobart mixer. I brought it over from the US. There's no way I'd leave it behind. Number one, it's huge (for the home). It'll make six large batches of chocolate chip cookies at a time and not even slow down. Second, well, it's huge. I'm male, I like things with more power. Third, I have a meat grinder attachment for it that works great. Always nice to get a custom grind when you want one. Right now, a whisk for Big Iron is on my wish list. And, a new 12 quart stainless steel bowl (its original 12 quart bowl got banged up badly in the move).

Chikka Chikka: (Tagalog) Gossip.

Chikistas: A word I made up based on chikka chikka. A sub-group of the Primary Test Team. All girls (ranging from 14-23 years old). They like to gather and giggle about various things.

Doctora: A female doctor.

Gwapo: (Tagalog) Handsome. For girls and women, it's gwapa.

Marasa: (Waray Waray) In the Waray Waray language, this means delicious.

Mestizo: (Tagalog) A person or male of mixed race. A female of mixed race is a mestiza.

Pasalubong: (Tagalog) A present. Usually given by someone returning from a trip.

Pasaway: (Tagalog) Stubborn.

Pharmacista: My word for the female pharmacists who work at the Mercury Drug Store on Real in Tacloban. Plural: pharmacistas.

Pilit: Sticky rice.

Primary Test Team: This is my family. My wife, my son (who at the time of this writing is five), my mom, brother-in-law, sister-inlaw, a couple cousins, and a niece. In proper Philippine style, we all live in the same house. Aside from myself and my mom, who are both American, all are Filipino (well, my son is a mix, a mestizo).

Tagalog: This is the Philippine national language.

Tapol: Red pilit (sticky rice). Considered the best variety. My father-in-law grows this.

Test Team C: This is a Filipino family. Husband, wife, daughters. Rarely do the daughters get anything because the wife gets a bit or two and the husband gobbles the rest. Oh, how I hate it when people like what I cook.

Test Team J: This is a small family. French husband, Philippine wife, teenage daughter. Being French, I really respect his opinion on my food. And she, the wife, is an amazing cook.

Test Team M: This is a couple. American husband, Philippine wife. The husband has a very good palette and can taste subtle flavors.

Tuba: (Waray Waray) Coconut wine. A specialty of Leyte.

Waray Waray: This is the main dialect spoken in Tacloban and the surrounding region. It's the main language I'm trying to learn. Trying being the operative term. If I lived purely by Yoda's credo of "Do or do not, there is no try" ... I would say that I'm doing not.

Friday, September 26, 2008


Sorry about the lack of content this week. Apparently, some very large truck snagged our phone line which took out our DSL. From what the phone company has told me, this caused problems with both my local DSL modem and their server. Delightful.

Anyway ... I'm back up now. Finally picked up a copy of Adobe Lightroom. Oh, what a great piece of software that is. I'm going to stop using my 10 year old image editing software and use Lightroom for everything I post here from now on. Hopefully, you'll see an improvement in the quality of all of the images.

I have a Tuesdays with Dorie post about ready-to-go. Just need to process the images from my digital camera ... which, of course, decided to have its battery run out just as I was going to transfer the images from it to my computer. Will there come a day when I will remember to charge my batteries more often? Somehow I doubt it.

This weekend is a golf tournament for the president of the Rotary club to which I belong. I'm planning on making a lot of cookies for it. Chocolate chip, peanut butter (using the peanut butter I made), oatmeal rasin, maybe even some brownies. You know, the classics. I'll take photos of the process.

I've also decided that I want to make my food doing and writing, this blog basically, a more regular item in my day. If anyone has any suggestions, I am wide open for ideas. I'm not very good at regularity. Short pauses interrupted with bursts of manic behavior is more my style.

So, those are the various thoughts going through my head. More later today. Going to go fire up Big Iron (my 20 quart Hobart stand mixer) and make a few simultaneous batches of NYT Chocolate Chip cookies.

Another Zombie Sighting!

I just saw another blog entry about someone who has a 12 year old McDonald's hamburger. I'm just at a loss for words. Especially when I think about how many of those I have eaten in my lifetime.

If I did love meat so much, news like this might drive me vegan ...

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Manila Food and Beverage Fair 2008

One of my companions on my little vacation to Manila this weekend needed to visit a trade show of his own. So, we decided to get it out of the way before going to delve into a Giant Toyland for Golf Players.

We went to the trade hall where he thought his trade show was to be. But, we ran into the Manila Food and Beverage Fair 2008 (MAFBEX). This show was sponsored by Food Magazine and Foodie Magazine. A couple of my favorites, along with Yummy!

He had to go find his show. He had a lot to do. I told him, I had his cell phone number and I could find him. I wasn't going to accidentally run into a food show and then skip it for something else that I didn't even need to attend.

I had no idea how large the show was going to be. I didn't care. If it was so large that I was there all day, OK! So, I filled out the registration form and paid my P50 entrance fee.

There were a lot of displays. Manufacturers of both food and equipment were there. Oh my, some of the commercial equipment that was there was ... words escape me. Large, well-built ovens and cook tops. Built to deal with the needs of a restaurant or hotel kitchen. Maybe I'm weird in admiring things like this, but I did.

I quickly skipped over the various food booths. Most were just selling random things in which I had little interest. F&B Magazine, a magazine aimed at food industry people, here usually has good ads that I find a lot more interesting.

The vast majority of my time was spent looking at the displays made by the students. Lots of really good work done by these kids.

In the back there was a food competition or two. Very much like a toned-down Iron Chef. But, I had places to go and didn't want to get too far separated from my friends. And, I don't speak the language (Tagalog ... working on this ... but, learning languages seems to be something in which I'm incredibly bad).

I took pictures of the work that I thought really stood out. Here they are ...

Back From Manila and Ready To Party

A big congratulations to those who recognize the 80's horror-spoof movie tag line I've stolen and modified for my title. Probably dating myself there. But, my birthday is coming soon and I'll have to admit to everyone that I'm another year older anyway. May was well practice now.

Had a good time. My friends are crazy. That's good, because so am I. Tons and tons of laughs.

By accident, I ran into a cooking competition and trade show. I have a few pictures from that. I didn't stay long as we had other plans. Wish I had to see the result. Looked like it was a competition between various culinary colleges.

While stopping for some supplies, I snagged some lemon pepper from a grocery store. Such a nice spice mixture. On those nights when you want something a little different, just sprinkle it on chicken or fish ... bake/roast ... eat ... enjoy. So simple. Sure, it's on the industrial side (the ingredients list does not contain lemons). But, I never claimed to be a zealot.

Bought some equipment for one of hobbies, golf. A new putter, some tees (none are for sale here in town, so it's good to get them while you can), and shoes ... shoes that fit! It was so nice to wear shoes that didn't hurt my feet. See, I have caveman feet. Short and wide. Size 28cm-EEE. Not exactly common. So, salamat Mizuno!

Anyway, enough about the non-food stuff. I'm back. I have a TWD entry to make, an entry with pictures from the cooking show, and coming soon ... an entry about our trek to one of the local agricultural colleges to buy some unpasteurized milk.

I see more cheese making in my future ...

Friday, September 19, 2008

Mini Vacation

I'm headed to Manila for a few days. Back on Sunday. Hopefully, I'll find something cool!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Measurement Madness

Out of frustration with some posts I'd seen on the web, I posted recently about measurements and how we should try to use them properly. Natasha, of Tastorama (a blog you should read, if not for the recipes, at least for the delicious pictures), commented that she, too, had similar frustrations. She mentioned an "American cup".

See, in my innocence, I believed that one cup was one cup the world over. From her comment, I sensed that my innocence was going to be shattered.

So, I did a little Google Fu and looked for "cup measure". The first entry to come up was from Wikipedia. I'm not a big fan of the site on some subjects (democracy is good ... but when a published scientist can't make corrections to an article about his own work ... that's bad). But, for stuff like this, they're fine. Here is the article that came up.

Holy Volumetric Schizophrenia, Batman! A cup is not a cup the world around! Oh, I feel my innocence slipping away. A cup can be 200ml, 250ml, 240ml, and other odd amounts depending on where you are and who you are talking to. And, there are official and unofficial cups.

What a mess!

I think I'm going to try harder to move to grams and liters now.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

TWD - Chocolate Chunkers

Regrettably, I missed last week's Tuesdays with Dorie. I was travelling briefly with my family. And, to be honest, I can't stand Whoppers. So, I was only disappointed in that I missed cooking something with the TWD crowd.

This week's recipe is Chocolate Chunkers. Chosen by Claudia of Fool for Food.

I wasn't going to miss this week's! The recipe sounded quite good. Although, at first glance, it didn't really sound like a cookie to me. Not enough flour ... and molten chocolate in the dough ... huh?

Hmmm ... as in the past, I forged onward ignoring my initial thoughts. TWD is about us all making the same thing and seeing how they turn out (hopefully, well).


I followed the directions found in Baking by Dorie Greenspan. Well, not perfectly.

Instead of sifting the base dry ingredients, I just whisked them.

And, instead of melting the butter and half of the chocolate in a double-boiler, I just nuked them. Separately, of course, as each take different times to melt and I didn't want the butter to separate before the chocolate even got close to melting.

Oh, and lastly, I cheated on the chocolate and nut ingredients. I had some left over chocolate chips from other baking. And, I had a 250g bag of white chocolate chips I was saving for something interesting. I thought this was interesting enough. And, I used the remnants of some cashews, walnuts, and raisins that I'd had.

In other words, I improvised a bit to use up some of what was lying about. Clear the pantry of the old stuff, so-to-speak.

I used a pair of soup spoons to scoop the batter (I hesitate to call the stuff a "dough") onto my parchment-lined half-sized baking sheets. This worked really well with the sticky, gooey, chunky mess.

I was very careful this time with the cooking. I didn't want another episode of Burning with Dorie. Thing is, my first batch, I nearly did! I came back from setting up my food camera at exactly 12 minutes into the cooking. I thought "oh no! Even on parchment, that batter is going to make a horrible mess!"

Fortunately, that was the perfect time! A little cooling time on the racks and all was good!

Test Results

Primary Test Group: Marasa! Delicious, show us how to make them! Where did you learn?

Test Group C: "Time to be quiet, I'm eating."

Test Group M: "Prefer the delicious chocolate chip. Not a fan of raisins or all chocolate cookies and cakes."


I wasn't really a big fan of these. Yes, they were good. But, they promised "cookie" ... and they weren't really a cookie. They were more of a confection.

I like cookies that have chocolate in them, not cookies that are chocolate. If I want a candy bar or a flavor-filled piece of chocolate, I'll buy one of those.

When something promises "cookie" ... it should deliver.

My personal disappointment aside, I'm glad I baked these. First, the appreciation of the Primary Test Team. They devoured their samples immediately. Rabid, starving wolverines show more hesitation when eating than the testers did. In fact, I hid the samples intended for Teams C and J to ensure I could deliver.

I'd never baked this kind of item before. Yes, lots of cookies, cakes, etc. But, nothing with molten chocolate in the batter like this. An interesting twist.

And, lastly, I'm happy to have participated along with the other TWD bakers. I'm having fun ...

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Soft Potato Pillows (Rolls)

Potato rolls, potato bread, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. One, two, three ... many.

Back in the States, I would insist that we buy potato hamburger buns and potato hot dog buns. When we bought dinner rolls, they were potato based. So soft, so good, slightly sweet but not sickly so.

Soft like little pillows of potato-ey goodness, soft to give physical contrast to the food that these little yeast-grown balls of flour and potato carry. Yet, strong enough to actually hold their own against a hard-core backyard grill burger will beef drippings, caramelized onions, and, of course, Heinz ketchup.

Culinary perfection in bread form. Found on the bread aisle in every store ... cheap.

When I got here in the Philippines, my starches consisted of rice, rice, rice, rice, and sometimes, rice. Bread? That is a snack food around here. You go to the local bakery and buy little rolls for P1 (2.1 cents) each.

Hamburger buns? Only the fast food joints (McDonald's and Jollibee) have those. And, they aren't telling where they got their buns. So, the memory of a nice soft bread faded slowly from my mind.

That is, until this week. When I returned from Cebu, my RSS reader had over 700 items for me to read. One of them was this posting by Greg & Michelle, the Culinary Sherpas. They make sliders (yum!) and put them on potato rolls. I like their use of the phrase "utility food". You might see that used in my later writings.

My mind was racing. I'd given up on the bread before because I was terrible with breads. I figured that I would see real-life zombies roaming the streets looking for brains before I managed to get some bread dough to rise.

Fortunately, with my new zeal for cooking, I'd done a few bun recipes and had great luck. I was feeling confident that I could pull off something good. I wanted something that was close to what I could buy in the stores in Washington, if not better. So, I started scouring the Internet.

After a lot of Google fu, I found a recipe for Amish Potato Rolls on RecipeZaar. The problem was, the recipe is too big for my normal stand mixer. I have a 20 quart Hobart, but I didn't want to whip out the Big Iron just for rolls. So, I halved the recipe.

Oops, 2-1/2 eggs. Hmmm. I already thought the recipe sounded lightly eggy, and after my experience with the choux dough, I didn't want to have eggy potato rolls. So, I dropped the half egg. I also kicked the shortening up from 3/8 cup to 1/2 cup.

  • 2-1/2 teaspoons yeast
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 tablespoon salt
  • 1 cup mashed potatoes
  • 1/2 cup Crisco
  • 4-5 cups bread flour

Preheated my oven to gas #4 (350F, 175C).

I put the water and yeast into my mixer's bowl and wisked them together. I let them sit while I gathered the other ingredients. A few minutes later, I added the sugar. I use SAF instant yeast. It is wonderfully forgiving unlike the insolent little yeast monsters found in packets.

I then mixed in the remaining ingredients, less the flour. Mixing them on low using my poor dying mixer blade (will someone please remind me to order a new one? I keep forgetting).

Once the other ingredients looked like some kind of lumpy porridge, I started adding the flour. One cup at a time. I added flour until the lump of dough formed was workable and a little sticky. That ended up being 4-1/2 cups.

I sprayed a second bowl with some cooking spray, scraped the mass of dough out of the mixer bowl using my silicone scraper (if you don't have one, get one! make sure you buy a one-piece scraper, the two-piece units tend to fall apart eventually), put a towel over the bowl, and let it all sit for about an hour in the Philippine heat ... err, warm spot in the kitchen.

When I came back to the dough, it had risen nicely. Oh, my days as a failed baker are ending!

I pulled out a small bowl and put in a generous handful of flour. I also got a 9" x 13" baking pan and sprayed it with cooking spray.

Before we go any further, I should note that the recipe suggested that you spray your hands with cooking spray to help keep the dough from sticking to your hands. I tried that. I sprayed between each little dough ball. They were wrong. Don't bother. Just accept that your hands will be a nice bit of dough on them. Oh, and be sure to take off all jewelry on your hands. Really, do it. You'll thank me later.

So, I made large golf ball-sized balls of the dough ... about 2 inches in diameter. I rolled each in the flour bowl to coat. And, lined them up in my baking pan.

With rolls like these, pull-aparts, you want to put the rolls close together. You want them to rise and cook together. This pushes them up rather than out.

Somehow I managed to pick the right size and got 20 of the little sticky dough balls in a 4x5 pattern in my pan. That was lucky.

Time for the second rise. I covered the pan with towels and let it sit for another 20 minutes. I probably spent a full two minutes of that time ensuring that my hands were dough-free. That stuff was sticky!

Finally, second rise is done ... into the oven. 350F (175C) for 20-25 minutes. I set my cell phone's alarm for 15 minutes because I didn't want to have another burn accident like I did with some of my cookies for Tuesdays with Dorie.

After 15 minutes, no worries. Looks like they still need another 10. But, out of pure paranoia and greed (I wanted to eat these!), I set my alarm for another 5 minutes.

I come back in 5 minutes and look into the oven. They hadn't made as much progress as I'd expected. And, I noticed that the oven thermometer was reading 300F (150C). That's odd. This oven keeps its temperature well.

Oh no ... after a little checking I figured out that the gas in the tank had run out. It was late, it was raining, and I didn't feel like going out into the back yard to get one of the spare tanks (we keep an extra two because I like to Be Prepared ... yes, ex-Boy Scout).

So, I kept the oven door closed and let the rolls coast for another 10 minutes. A total of 30 minutes in the oven. But, the last 15 were at a slowly decreasing temperature.

Were they ruined? Let's find out ...

Test Results

Primary Test Group: Oh my god! (yes, just like the ribs) How did you make these? Did you buy these? Marasa! Masarap! (Tagalog for "delicious")

These were consumed before any could reach the other test groups.

Potential Improvements

Well, cooking them for the full time would be good. While I love gas, running out at bad times is one of the risks here since we run off little 11 kilo tanks of LPG.

The bottoms were a little brown. Soft, but brown. I might try making them at 325F (163C) and cooking for 25-30 minutes.

I might try kneading the dough next time. I thought it was unusual not to. Although, that probably led to the wonderful softness.

Potential Variations

Not many. One really doesn't want to get away from the basic roll that is so good. Maybe adding a little more mashed potatoes for more potato flavor.

Possibly add some chives (I'll have to grow those myself) or other typical mashed potato toppings.

Maybe make these in hamburger bun size or in hotdog bun shape.


Fantastic! I could not have been happier with the result.

I think I'm going to make the sliders like the Culinary Sherpas.

I'm getting more confident with making yeast-based breads. This is good. It's always been a weakness of mine in the kitchen. I suspect that I'm having good luck because here in the Philippines, unlike Seattle, every part of the kitchen is a nice warm spot in which the dough can rise.

Asian Beef Ribs ... Carnivorous Delight

Growing up, beef was very common. We had it nearly daily and it was good.

Around where I live now (Tacloban, Leyte, Philippines) beef (baka) is not at all common. Pork (baboy) and chicken (manok) are far, far more common. I would go so far as to say that Filipinos love their pork ... very, very much. They're very good at cooking it.

I like pork, too. But, I can't get away from loving beef. Sometimes, I just want a big chunk of well-prepared beef. Today, when I was at the local butcher, I saw the ribs. There they were ... large, red, and screaming "slow cook us and you'll be happy".

Now I don't believe every bit of food that speaks to me. Cauliflower keeps promising to be tasty and, without the help of a generous amount of cheese sauce, I find that it lies. Beef, on the other hand, tends to tell the truth when it claims to be good.

I poked around the web a bit looking for inspiration. Most recipes make a classic stew-like sauce in which the ribs slowly cook. I didn't feel like that today. Finally, I decided just to wing it with something slightly Asian. One part soy sauce and one part brown sugar is the foundation of teriyaki sauce. Teriyaki sauces are like coconut milk ... they make everything taste better.

With that and adding a little heat, I was good to go.

  • 3.7 kilograms beef ribs
  • vegetable oil
  • 3 cups soy sauce (Kikkoman's, Japanese style)
  • 3 cups brown sugar
  • 3 dried red Chinese chiles

I had the butcher cut the ribs short. They were oddly cut in the first place (beef is often cut strangely here ... stew beef comes in rectangular blocks). I wanted to be able to pack the ribs into the cooker.

I snagged a large frying pan, put in some vegetable oil and seared the large sides of each of the pieces of beef ribs. This was probably the hardest part of the whole process. Yes, oh so difficult ...

While searing the beef, I mixed the brown sugar, chiles, and soy sauce in my slow cooker. I could've used a bowl and poured the mixture into the cooker later. But, why make more dishes to clean?

When each piece of beef was done, I'd put it directly into the slow cooker. I arranged the pieces so that they were packed in well. The whole process took ten minutes, maybe fifteen. No more.

Finally, I turned my slow cooker on. 200F (93C).

Seven hours later ... we had fabulous beef ribs.

Test Results

Primary Test Group: Oh my god! So good! Marasa!

The other test teams were off on the other side of Leyte playing golf this weekend. So, they lose out.

Potential Improvements

Some of the meat didn't cook completely in the first bit of cooking. That's because I think I cooked too much for the slow cooker. I probably should have stopped at 3 kilos of beef ribs. I just couldn't help myself.

More of the dried chiles to give a little bit of heat. The three that I used just didn't convey anything to the large amount of liquid that was present.

Potential Variations

Could try this with pork ribs and chicken, too.


This beef was not lying. It was quite good.

So good, definite winner! Something to make again. I like making things in the slow cooker. You can use lesser cuts of meat and get fabulous results.

We haven't even used it yet, but the resulting sauce is probably amazing over rice.

Most beef here is P350 per kilo and up. The beef ribs were P210 per kilo. About the same as most pork. A definite win on the price front, too.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Measurements ... Why So Hard?

OK, this is a bit of a rant here. So, be warned!

I read a lot of recipes on the web every day. I love reading about what everyone is doing out there. There are some highly creative people with amazing photographic skills.

Thad said, some folks just need to learn to communicate their recipes better (this includes some cookbook writers, too). Maybe it's just me. Having moved here to the Philippines, I'm much more aware of the words that I use and try to pick words that don't have multiple meanings or, in some cases, no meaning to a non-American listener.

I know that the ideal is to measure nearly everything in grams and to post that. It's a nice ideal and it's something that I hope to do someday. Still, we all use the happy medium of measuring in cups, tablespoons, teaspoons, etc. It's convenient.

Let's take butter as an example of my ire. This is such a great example. Lots of people will just write "put in one stick of butter". Folks, a "stick" is not a measurement. It is a packaging convenience that happens to work in North America.

Here in the Philippines, butter comes in 225g blocks (for those of you in the only country still not on metric ... that being my own ... that's eight ounces or half a pound). Yes, that would be "two sticks" if you're in North America. I saw on another blog a commenter asking how large a "stick" of butter was. The commenter was from Brazil and I would bet that they don't package food the same way there, either.

Or, how about temperature measurements? My local butcher had some beef ribs for once and I decided to make something yummy. Of course, I hit the blogs to find something and managed to do so. The recipe I found is terrific. I snagged a piece that wasn't quite ready and it was delicious. Meat pulling away from the bones very nicely.

But ... and here's the kicker ... the recipe called for cooking the ribs in your slow cooker on "low". What in the Name of All That Is Holy and Good is LOW?!? Folks, use numbers. They do that funny thing call communicating.

I have two crock pots. One that is horrid and I hate. It had a setting for "low". The other is nice, large, and I love it (plus, it'd hold the 3.7kg of beef ribs I had).

What did I do? I put a pint (2 cups, 32 liquid ounces, 473 milliliters) of water in the lousy crock pot. Set it on low. Then, took the temperature of the water an hour later (with my nifty new laser-guided thermometer ... but that's another post). For the curious out there, the temperature was 200F (93C).


Moral: while cooking isn't an exact science, communication helps. Please remember that when posting.

Rant off ...

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Ingredient Envy and Pizza Pride

We just got back from Cebu. We stayed there for a few days as a mini vacation. Our main source of amusement while there was to visit the three major malls: SM, Ayala, and Robinson's.

Normally, I'm not much on going shopping. I really don't like it. My tolerance is extremely low for the shoving, inconsiderate crowds that are found at malls all over the world. However, my willingness to suffer to see my wife and son have a good time is fairly high.

My wife got to shop for minor jewelry items. She had a good time doing that. Most of the time was spent with my son riding the rides (SM and Ayala have indoor rides) and playing the ticket-dispensing video games and automated carny games.

Did we get in a little fun for daddy? Yes. I insisted that we hit the grocery stores while there. I didn't walk away with much as I limited myself to only items that I cannot buy here. So, a 4 oz. container of basil leaves, a similarly sized container of Cream of Tartar (used to make playdoh for my son), and 3 kilos of Morton Kosher salt.

The selection of products available in Cebu was amazing. I was definitely envious of those who live there when it comes to shopping for ingredients.

Dad's other form of run was trying the different restaurants there. Of course, pizza was at the top of my list. We hit Pizza Hut and it was ... well, Pizza Hut. Average corporate pizza.

We hit another local place that is supposed to have the best pizza in Cebu. While they were better than Pizza Hut, I didn't think by all that much. Both put on nearly no sauce. That always rates badly in my book.

So, I asked my son ... which pizza did you like best?

"The one you made, daddy."

I think I'll keep him.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

HFCS Bites Back

Well, apparently the Corn Refiners Association is feeling the heat about how some of us really don't care for their ultra-refined corn product ... high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). They went and created a web page,, to defend their main product.

The page is oh-so-informative. FAQs, white papers, event a virtual press room with all kinds of wonderful information about how HFCS is "natural" because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says it is.

Keep in mind that these are the same people (with the help of the US Supreme Court) who call a tomato a vegetable and wanted to classify ketchup as a vegetable as well for the sake of school lunch programs for kids. Moral here? Not everything the FDA says is packed with high-quality wisdom or common sense.

Now, before anyone goes off and thinks I hate the FDA, I don't. I appreciate all the effort they do to keep the food supply safe. I just think in some cases, they need to be more careful with how they use certain words.

"Natural" ... this implies a lot. When I hear this word, I picture something out of a Disney movie. A young, hard-working farm hand picking a ripe potato out of the ground ... gently and respectfully putting it into his basket. The potato ends up being carefully placed into a large hopper, cleaned with care, and taken to the store where I purchase it ... and proceed to mash it until it cries out for help!

OK, the realities of feeding hundreds of millions of people mean that food is harvested a bit more mechanized help. That's cool. Expecting some pastoral fantasy land is a bit extreme. However, not wanting to have food that has gone through more processing than the gas in our cars ... that is reasonable.

Wikipedia has a quick three paragraphs on the process. Read it carefully. If you understand all the words and all the processes, well, welcome to my site Mr. Industrial Food Chemist. Because, that's some strange sounding stuff that they're doing just to produce this "natural food". Ion exchange and liquid chromatography? These are not processes that I would apply the word "natural" to.

The Corn Refiners' Association site,, has a lot of information about how HFCS has the same amount of calories as sugar, how it is used in wonderful happy ways to make your foods better, and other topics obviously pumped out by a bunch of PR guys. Nothing bad about PR guys, in fact, the corn folks have hired good ones. They must be expensive, too, they're address is 1701 Pennsylvania Avenue ... yeah, just one block from the White House.

What the site doesn't talk about is the basic truth that HFCS is highly processed. This is what I, and many, many others, object to the most. It's industrial food. Plain and simple. Food taken and processed until it is unrecognizable.

Another minor point: remember how margarines and other such butter-like spreads were supposed to be heart-friendly? How did they do it? Through the magic of hydroginated fats. Yes, so healthy for you! Fewer calories, less fat!

Ooops ... maybe not. Turns out they were worse for you. Far worse. Yes, the trans fats made life convenient for the industrial producers through longer shelf lives. But, the trans fats themselves increase the risk of heart attack and other bad things ... this we know. And, the medical types have said that they are still studying how trans fats hurt us.

So, do we believe now that HFCS is perfectly safe? Possibly. It may very well be. The corn folks do a fine job of explaining their position, how HFCS allegedly benefits us (for some reason, I picture the movie showing kids being sprayed with DDT ... proving how safe it is), how our lives and taste buds are enriched by having HFCS slathered all over everything.

The simple fact that cannot be denied is that HFCS is very highly processed, it is industrial food. That is what is wrong with it. That is what so many people are trying to escape.

That is what no PR agency will be able to spin into nothing.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Breakfast Tarts

Breakfast ... it's supposed to be the most important meal of the day. Eat breakfast and your whole day is going to be better.

This is a wonderful thought. One, I think, created by people who are at home being awake and alive in the morning. I am, from the very base of my existence, a night person. If I'm awake at 6am, it's because I've stayed up all night (I'm trying to change this because the best time to play golf here is at 6am when it's not quite so hot yet).

I'm not a big cereal person these days. I used to love the stuff. Now, I'd rather have something more complex, more substantial, frankly, something without the additives, refined nastiness, and general chemical horrors required for mass production.

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup cold water
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup cooked and diced bacon

I preheated my oven to 350F (175C).

I mixed together the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Using a whisk, I mixed them thoroughly.

Fortunately, I found my pasty cutter. I was worried I'd have to do this with a fork. I used the pastry cutter to cut in the shortening. Did this until the particles were the size of small peas.

I added the water a tablespoon at a time, continuing to cut the mixture with my pastry cutter. Make sure all of the flour gets moistened.

Knead the dough for a few minutes to get it into a workable state. This is where I often fail to do enough. This time, I didn't. Enough kneading and the dough becomes cooperative.

At this point, I set the dough aside in a covered bowl and put together my filling. I beat the two eggs fairly well. I wanted to break up all of the long strings of gooey stuff found in the eggs.

The bacon, I popped out of the freezer, cut off in small slices while still frozen, and tossed quickly into a hot frying pan. The bacon cooked very quickly ... maybe two minutes tops over high flame.

While the bacon fried, I quickly diced the onion.

Once I had everything I needed, I rolled out the dough to about 1/8-inch (3mm) thickness. I selected a biscuit cutter that would cut circles in the dough the right size for my little silicone tart pan.

To prepare the tart pan, I sparingly sprayed each cup with a bit of cooking spray. This would ensure that the tarts would come out utterly painlessly. I put the tart pan on a baking sheet just for ease of transport.

I then pushed the cut dough circles into the tart pan. I pressed carefully around the outside to make sure that the dough was inserted well.

Then, just using my fingers (I wash my hands often while cooking, you should, too!) I picked up a little bacon and a large pinch of diced onion and placed it into each cup. Then, using a spoon, I poured the well-beaten egg into each cup nearly filling it.

Now, we're ready to cook! 10-15 minutes at 350F (175C). Watch for the edges to become golden brown.

When mine came out, they popped out of the silicone without any complaint. So easy!

Let them cool for a bit on a wire rack and eat as soon as possible. So good!

Test Results

Primary Test Group: Delicious! Marasa! Make more please.

Test Group J: Very good!

Potential Improvements

I was a little disappointed with the shallow tart mold that I used. Lots of crust, not enough filling. I'll find something deeper next time so that we can get in more egg.

Potential Variations

As with many things, the variations are enormous. Just about any combination of egg, meat, starch, and spice is going to be good. That's the beauty of this recipe.


Utter winner. Hands down a breakfast treat. I need to experiment with the freezer on these. If I can cook a batch of 40 and keep them frozen until we wish to devour them like the voracious omnivores that we are ... that would be fantastic.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Scary Needles!

I'm afraid of needles. Really scared ... not sure why. Just am. Can't even watch someone getting an injection in a movie. It's not about the pain. Compared to some of the less-than-intelligent things I've done to myself by accident, a little needle pales in comparison.

Still, when this thing came in the mail, I got a quick twinge of EEEK. While it looks like something out of a bad low-budget zombie movie (probably holds the liquid goo that made the first brain-loving zombie) ... it's not. This is a meat injector.

This particular model holds two ounces (that's a quarter cup) of material. Either liquid or very small solids. You can inject the contents deep into a piece of meat to get better flavor inside.

Why do I care about this? Because in my quest to make as much as I can myself, I want to make ham, Canadian bacon, and other cured items. Those really like to have cure, flavorings, and other goodness injected.

My only problem right now is finding the right cuts of meat. Yes, honestly, that's not always easy here. For example, pork ribs are very hard to get because most are snapped up by the local restaurants long before they might hit the retail fridges.

I think we've solved that problem, though. There's a meat shop we're going to visit later this week that butchers daily. Getting my greedy hands on pork ribs, whole loins (Canadian bacon), pork butt ... real cuts of pork!

Very exciting stuff. Yes, yes, I realize that I'm saying that getting normal cuts of meat is exciting. This seems rather minor. Let me relate a little story.

My brother-in-law and I were driving to a nearby town (while it was near, the road made it effectively very, very far ... what should have been three hours round trip turned out to be eight) in search of the local version of queso blanco, a simple farmer's cheese.

My brother-in-law asked "Kuya," that's the Filipino word for "older male brother/cousin", "why is finding cheese so important to you?"

I, being the wise old man that I am, replied with a question "If you were in a place that had no rice would you do?"

He replied immediately ... no thought required ... "I'd look for it, kuya."

"There you go ..."

It's the little things that make us happy. Enjoy all the minor victories.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Cheesemaking Beginning

Recently, I began looking into making my own cheese. Seems like a lot of effort at first. But, the more I think about it, the more I like the idea of controlling the process, the ingredients, etc. So, I ordered a few ingredients and a good book ... but that's another post.

I have the supplies to potentially make some mozzarella. A very simple cheese to make. It only requires milk, citric acid, and rennet. You can add salt, but I'm not going to. I'll add more salt to whatever I cook if I feel that the salt is required.

See that little beige-colored ball on the right? That's the cheese that I managed to produce. A whopping 84 grams!

Seems small? Yeah, it is. I was hoping for 350-400 grams of cheese.

Disappointing? Sure. Surprising? No.

See, I'm using powdered milk as my base. Not exactly the fresh lightly pasteurized milk that cheese really wants to start with.

I followed the instructions to the letter (except the part about starting with 55F (12C) milk ... since I was using room temperature water and milk powder. This means the milk started at 82F (28C) today.

Then, the instructions said to wait until the whey was clear when making the cheese. I waited the stated amount of time. The instructions said if the whey looked a little milky to wait a few more minutes. Well, the whey didn't look milky ... it looked like milk.

So, we seem to have a bit of a problem in the curdling process ... the whey and the curds are just too attached to each other. Likely, I need to use more rennet. Rennet is a culinary pry-bar for milk. It helps the milk solids (curds) separate from the liquids (whey).

Now, beyond the whole separation issue, my little ball of cheese didn't want to behave at first. The instructions called for a little kneading to get it to a smooth and creaming consistency. Honestly, it never reached that point. But, it got close.

I stopped before getting to the final stage because I figured there was no point. There was so very little cheese ... things just hadn't gone quite right.

I still have the ball in the fridge. I'm going to see if it'll shred like a good mozz. I'm hoping so.

Either way, I'm eating it. All issues aside ... it tasted good.

Good Pizza ... Oh My!

Good pizza. Such a simple pair of words. Pizza itself seems so simple. Just some dough, a little red sauce, and cheese ... in its most basic form. Toppings are nice, but optional. A good cheese pizza is heaven unto itself.

Pizza is a balance of its ingredients: crust, sauce, cheese, toppings. Too much of one and the others suffer. If one is bad, the others cannot make up for it. This makes good pizza hard. And, great pizza near impossible. There are just so many places where one can go wrong.

I've had great pizza. It is amazing. And, surprisingly, it is not some giant pie heaped with toppings and dripping with cheese. It was a well-balanced pie with high-quality toppings, cheese, crust, and sauce. Not too much or too little of any.

As I've written before, many commercial pizza places fall short on one or more of the basic aspects of the pizza. I think it would be better to be mediocre at all four ... rather than good at three and bad at one.

This recipe yields a decent crust. For the amount of effort required, it's pretty good. Still, not great.

  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2-1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 1 cup water
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 60g grated Parmesan cheese
  • 250g shredded Mozzarella cheese

Preheat your oven ... now! You want it as hot as possible for this. Mine gets up to about 460F (238C).

Mix the yeast, sugar, and water together. Set aside.

The original recipe calls for whisking the dry ingredients together, setting on the counter, making a hole in the middle, then pouring in the yeast-sugar water. Here's where I say ... no!

I put the dry ingredients into my mixer bowl and whisked them a bit by hand to properly disburse the salt. I'm told this aerates the flour, too. Not sure I believe this.

I poured in the olive oil (be sure to use good olive oil ... it makes a difference) and the water mixture. Then, I used the bread hook to mix slowly for a minute or so. I ended up adding an additional 1/2 cup of flour to get the right consistency. The dough should be slightly sticky.

Once mixed, I turned the mixer on medium to knead the dough. I let it knead for 10 minutes. When done, the dough will still be slightly sticky and quite smooth.

I put the dough in another bowl and tossed in about a tablespoon of olive oil. Put a clean kitchen towel over it and let the dough rise for about an hour.

I split the dough into two equal parts. For each, I rolled into a ball using my hands. Then, pat it down into a disk on the counter (with some flour down). To the amazement of my son, I tossed the disks into the air to get to the right size. Never done that before, it was rather fun. Easier than I thought it would be! Harder than those pizza guys make it look.

I used the pizza sauce that I made (and froze). Just put a big dollop in the middle and spread it outwards in a spiral motion using the back of your spoon. You want less sauce on the pie than you think. Too much sauce makes your cheese and toppings fall off. That's no fun!

Finally, I put on the cheese. Notice it's not all that much. It's the combination that makes it good. The bit of Parmesan adds a nice slight bite that I like.

I put these in for 10 minutes each at about 460F (238C). They came out looking amazing. I was shocked.

Pretty easy for a pair of 12-inch pies!

Test Results

Primary Test Group: Loved it. Some even giggled when they got a second slice.

Test Group C: Very good! Bring more whenever you like. Was surprised that it was just a cheese pizza (good surprise, thought it had more on it).

Test Group M: Good!

Potential Improvements

Alton Brown has a crust recipe that involves slow-rising the dough in the fridge for 12-18 hours. This sounds like a very good idea. Let the dough have the time to develop a good flavor.

Potential Variations

With the addition of toppings, there are too many variations to mention.

I think I'll try freezing a crust or even a completed pizza. Let's find out if I can make my own frozen pizza designed for later quick-and-easy resuscitation.


It was so good to eat pizza that tasted good, had a good crust, and used decent cheese. This one is definitely a winner.

That said, there's room for improvement. The crust was present, had tooth, but wasn't great. With practice and probably a different base recipe, I'm sure I can do better.

Still, it was really nice to have my first good pizza in 15 months.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Deconstruction? Reduction?

I'm not sure what to call the concept, perhaps someone with a better culinary vocabulary can help me out. This is something I've been considering for a long time.

I want to get to the point where most things I make are made from the base ingredients. What I mean by this is that rather than adding ketchup, mustard, and Worcestershire sauce to ground beef for basic Sloppy Joes, I add their components: tomato paste, ground mustard, vinegar, spices, etc.

I'm fairly realistic about this, things like Worcestershire sauce are already in a basic enough form as is. As are hoisin sauce, oyster sauce, fish sauce, etc. I don't need to get into manufacturing those.

What I do want to do is get my recipes to the point where they are not reliant upon a single brand of a finished product to get the right taste. Ketchups are different, mustards are different. I want some degree of consistency and control. I also want to know what is going into the food that I serve my family and friends.

Yes, opening a can of Cream of Mushroom soup, pouring it over chicken and rice, and baking that for a bit is very easy. And, really quite tasty. However, its sodium content is through the roof. And, these days as I rail more and more against all foods industrial, the thought of just popping open a can of creamy goo and pouring it over our food becomes less and less appealing.

I understand that this is a fantastic time-saver. And, having had a busy life in the past I certainly understand. Right now, I have the time. I should take the time to prepare better for my loved ones.

Just need to learn how now.

Care Package Frustration

Yesterday, a care package arrived. In it were a few innocuous items:
  • citric acid
  • rennet tablets
  • fennel seed
  • digital thermometer
With them, I plan to do fun, yummy things. The fennel seed will lead me to pepperoni and Italian sausage. The rennet tablets, citric acid, and digital thermometer will be used to make cheese ... first, probably mozzarella and ricotta.

What does that all spell? Pizza and lasagna. With good ingredients.

I'm drooling already.

Only one problem: I'm bed-ridden with a fever, nasty cough, and stuffy nose. Here I have the ingredients to help me try to make culinary heaven and I can barely walk ten feet without my body kicking off a world-record coughing fit.

Life is so cruel ...

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

TWD - Chunky Peanut Butter and Oatmeal Chocolate Chipsters

After my emotionally damaging experience with the Daring Bakers, I approached this week's Tuesdays With Dorie selection with trepedation. What would it be? Would be pride take another serious beating?

Oh my, it's cookies! Hooray! Oatmeal, peanut butter, and chocolate chip cookies, to be exact.

So easy to make, too! Just use the normal cream method for cookies ... slam it all together ... bake ... eat.

I read the recipe and it said not to use natural peanut butter. Yeah, right. Like I'm going to use some brown-tinted industrial goo in good cookies. No thanks.

I used the peanut butter I made earlier this week. The cookies turned out amazing. Really very good. Lots of peanut flavor.

Test Results

Primary Test Group: Delicious. At them all quickly.

Test Group C: Bring more next time.

Test Group J: Really good!

Test Group M: Doesn't like peanut butter cookies.


Glad that it was something where I could coast a little.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Natural Peanut Butter

I grew up with peanut butter. My mom made the best PB&J sandwiches. Often, we'd have blackberry jam or raspberry jam made from berries that we (read: my parents) picked. My favorite was when mom made it on Oroweat Oatnut bread. They were, at the time, a large local Seattle bakery that sold to the grocery stores ... now, I think they sell all over.

Mom liked to buy Adam's peanut butter. I was a natural peanut butter. Ingredients: peanuts, salt. We had to stir it before use because the oil would separate. So very yummy.

Over the years, I'd buy peanut butter at the health food stores when I could. Pick up a pound or two of roasted peanuts and use their grinder. Fresh, good, nothing bad for you in it (besides the fatty goodness found in peanuts).

After a while of being in the Philippines, I started to crave a little peanut butter. I tried a couple of local brands. They were bad. Well, not bad. Really quite awful.

I recently looked at the ingredients lists on them. One has a nice, simple ingredients list. Listed in plain English ... how very kind. Proudly, the number two and three ingredients are Dextrose and Sucrose ... ah, sugars. No wonder the thing tastes sickly sweet. Oh, and right after that? Hydrogenated vegetable oil. That's a nice code-phrase for "trans fats inside". No thanks!

The other brand ... not quite so user friendly. Many of their ingredients are, again, in plain English. But a few ... words so long and complex that I couldn't pronounce them if I tried. Even with nearly two years of college chemistry and a full year of just studying Greek and Latin roots to words. Yes, long and nasty chemical names.

As I advance in my years, I've gotten lazy. I used to look those up out of curiosity. I'm no longer so curious. I just translate long chemical allegedly-eatable food names to "industrial goo" or "slow poison".

Oh, did I mention that neither local brand really tastes like peanuts? Or, that they seem to have so much sugar that they should be relabeled as "peanut-flavored sugar paste"? Not only that, they're relatively expensive.

At the local mercado (open-air market), there's a gentleman who spends his day grinding peanut butter. He's got a little stall and he grinds your roasted nuts for you as you wait. The price is very reasonable (P10 per kilo) and it's fun to watch.

Roasting some peanuts and getting fresh peanut butter? Oh yes ... I must.

  • 1-1/2 kilograms peanuts

Spread the peanuts out on a roasting pan. Bake them at 350F (175C) for about 10-15 minutes.

Let cool.

Take to the mercado (market) and pay the friendly peanut grinder to grind them for you.



Test Results

Primary Test Group: Very peanutty! Yum! Marasa! Delicious!

Potential Improvements

The results were very, very good. Room for improvement? Little.

I might try adding a little bit of salt next time. Not a lot, as I don't want to ruin the great peanut flavor.


So easy. No excuse for me not to do this. Given that the cost to grind is P10 (about US$0.22) per kilo, there's no excuse not to get peanut butter this way. That makes the peanut butter P95 (US$2.16) per kilo.

Very reasonable by any measure ... and really very good.

Again, it's worth taking the little bit of extra time to make it myself. So glad I did.