Herb and Buttered Red Potatoes

I wasn't feeling up for mashed potatoes (or "mashy taters" as son likes to call it) for a side dish so I thought I'd just whip up something easy and equally delicious that doesn't entail a lot of work (i.e. mashing!).

What you need:

1/2 a pound red potatoes, quartered
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon ground garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 lemon, juiced
1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon dried parsley

What to do:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Wash the potatoes and cut them in quarters. You don't have to peel them, but make sure you give the skin a good scrubbing under cool water.

Put the potatoes in a baking dish. In a small bowl, combine the melted butter, garlic, salt and lemon juice. Pour the mixture on top of the potatoes and stir to coat. Add the Parmesan cheese on top of the taters.

Cover your baking dish and bake for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, remove the cover and bake for an additional 10 minutes or until the potatoes are golden brown. Remove from heat and sprinkle dried parsley on top.

Tips, Tricks and Tweaks:

1. Add or subtract the amount of butter and lemon juice until you find the balance that is just right for you.
2. For softer potatoes, boil them for a few minutes before cutting them in quarters. You might want to kick up the spices a notch to off-set the added water in the potatoes.

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Creamy Chicken Purses

Hot, flaky and tasty!

I saw this recipe on a Viva advertisement insert on the Food Network Magazine (March 2010 edition). It was submitted by Candace Brady of California. The picture looks scrumptious, and it looks fairly easy to make, so I decided to give it a try. (Not to mention I just happen to have some leftover chicken in the fridge.)

It was delicious. The cream cheese blended well with the chicken, and the pastry was just marvelous - it helped tone down the creaminess of the cheese and the savoriness of the chicken. It's an impressive appetizer for a party.

You need:
  • 3 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • a dash of black pepper
  • 2 cups cooked chicken, diced small
  • 2 tablespoons chopped green onions
  • 1 (8 ounce) tube refrigerated crescent rolls
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted

What to do:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a bowl, combine the softened cream cheese with milk. Add the chicken and green onions, then adjust the taste by putting salt and pepper. Set aside.

Separate rolls into 4 rectangles and pinch seams together. Spoon a quarter of chicken mixture on each roll. Bring the corners to center and twist to seal. Using your fingers, press any gaps closed. Brush with butter and bake on ungreased cookie sheet for 25 minutes.

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Product Review: Starbucks VIA Instant Coffee

Starbucks recently launched their first instant coffee, called Starbucks Via Ready Brew. Via means "road" in Italian, so this is perfect for people on the go who are looking for an instant caffeine fix. After sampling the Colombia Medium Roast variety, here is my ten cents (used to be two cents before inflation) worth of comments.

What I liked:

- Tastes good. In a blind taste test, you probably couldn't tell that it was instant, especially if you just drink Starbucks brand every once in a while. But it is good compared to other instant coffee brands that I have tried.
- The coffee is pleasantly strong with
a hint of bitterness, especially if you follow the ratio of the coffee to water on the packet.
- The dark, rich aroma is unmistakably Starbucks. (Mmmmm!)
- A packet is small and convenient - you can put it in your purse, pocket, etc!
- Perfect for people on the go. VIA. Hmmmm....
- Reasonably priced. Around $3.50 for 3 packets.

What I didn't like:

- Black - not so good. But if you add cream or sugar, it gets better.
- They don't sell it in bigger bags or jars.
- No lingering coffee aftertaste. (This could be a plus for some, though)

The verdict:

I'm not saying that it's the next best thing since sliced bread, but for instant coffee, I think VIA is good. Actually, better than other instant coffee brands that I've had. The sachet-type packet is perfect for travelers or daily commuters that don't have time to sit down and eat their breakfast - the "grab and go" types. It still has the same Starbucks taste, minus the hassle of preparing filters, coffee maker settings, etc.

Coffee purists and meticulous drinkers might not enjoy it, but for occasional drinkers like me, I don't mind the Via.
Instant coffee = instant satisfaction of coffee cravings. :-)


Banana Mash for Wrinkles

Everywhere you look, you see a revolution of organic products being used commercially - berry infused shampoos, cocoa-butter lotion, lemon extracts in facial cleansers, and the likes. Being the budget-conscious wife that I am, I went straight to the source and experimented to see if any of those natural beauty recipes really work. On a side note, I truly believe that in everything, the nearer it is to the natural state that God created it, the better it is for you.

The simplest (and easiest ingredient to procure) is the Banana Mash. They claim that is a great wrinkle fighter, as the lowly banana (which we know is rich in potassium) has antioxidants that help keep the skin looking soft and supple. It is also supposedly a good regenerating agent as it restores collagen in our skin.

To make, just mash 1/4 of a banana using a fork until it is very creamy. Spread it all over the face and leave for 15 to 20 minutes. You might want to lay down and watch TV while it is on your face as it will run off. Or put a bib on to catch those straying banana gloops. Rinse off with warm water, followed by a dash of cold. Gently pat dry.

What I liked:
- It is cheap, and the ingredient is easy to obtain
- It is natural
- Very easy to make
- There is a tightening sensation on your face while the mask is on (due to the stickiness of the substance?)
- I really felt that my skin was smoother and more supple after removing the goo off my face.

What I didn't like:
- It is very uncomfortable while it is on your skin
- Might stick to your hair!
- It is hard to make the cream stay on your face. It slides off naturally.
- After I washed it off, there was an itching sensation that lasted for about a minute.

The verdict:

I like the fact that my skin felt tight and supple after trying this banana mash. I feel that it has some real promise. Not to mention, with bananas at only 69 cents a pound, it gives you the biggest bang for your buck.

I will recommend this to people who are not afraid to get their hands (or faces) dirty, and who doesn't have uber-sensitive skin.

But as to the effectiveness of the banana mash... if I decide to continue doing this regimen, I will let you know if I still haven't developed wrinkles after 5 years.


Chicken Curry

Curry is derived from the Tamil word kari, which means sauce. We usually associate it with Indian Cuisine, since the Curry Leaf Tree is native to India. Do not confuse it with Curry Powder, though, as Indian food does not contain curry powder.

This dish is made with good old curry powder which can be easily found in your local grocery stores (not the authentic garam masala). Hubby loves it, banking on the fact that curry powder has a lot of health benefits (i.e. helps fight skin cancer, inflammation of joints, improves memory, etc), and it is also spicy and delicious. This is how I remember chicken curry - the way my aunt used to make it.

What you need:

  • 2 - 3 pieces boneless chicken breast, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • 1 medium-sized onion, quartered
  • a thumb-sized piece of ginger, cut into matchsticks
  • 1 red bell pepper, sliced and seeds removed
  • 1 1/2 cup coconut milk
  • 6 pieces small red potatoes, peeled and quartered
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder (or more, if desired)
  • a dash of red pepper flakes
  • 3 - 4 cups of water
  • 2 tablespoons patis (fish sauce)
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil

What to do:

In a pot over medium-high heat, saute the garlic, onion and ginger in oil for around 30 seconds. Add chicken and cook until the meat is no longer pink. Then add the fish sauce and cover the pot for about 5 minutes, or until the chicken absorbs the fish sauce.

Add the turmeric, curry powder and red pepper flakes and stir to distribute the powder. Pour in the water and toss in the potatoes and red bell pepper. Adjust heat to medium and cook for 10 minutes.

Add the coconut milk, cover the pot and cook for 5 minutes, or until chicken is tender. Adjust seasoning by adding more red pepper flakes or fish sauce according to preference. Remove from heat and serve hot!

Tips, Tricks and Tweaks:

1. Careful in de-seeding the peppers. Remember not to scratch your eyes when handling them!
2. Curry powder leaves yellow stains so be cautious when using it. You might want to rinse your dishes after eating and DON'T store in white plastic container.
3. Some coconut milk settles at the bottom of the can. Don't forget to give the can a little shake before opening.
4. Try adding other veggies such as bok choy or carrots.
5. Pork, tilapia, or beef can also be used in lieu of chicken.


Somen Salad

Somen are thin Japanese noodles that are usually served cold. Hubby loves it so much, and to quote him, "it is irresistibly delicious." It is a little bit sweet, a little bit tangy, and just when you thought you've tasted it all, a little bit of heat will kick in. Somen is available at your local Asian store.

What you need:
  • 4 (or more) bundles of Somen noodles
  • 1 cup shredded lettuce
  • 1 cup ham, cut into matchsticks
  • 1 scambled eggs, cut into strips
  • 6 sticks Surimi (imitation crab meat), cut in fine strips
  • 2 stalks sliced green onions
For the dressing:
  • 1/4 cup Canola oil
  • 3 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt

What to do:

Cook somen as directed on package. Take note
of the time, as overcooking will make the noodles soggy. When cooked, put it on a colander and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process. Set aside.

Meanwhile, combine all the dressing ingredients in a container with a lid. Close tight and shake well to mix all the ingredients.

Transfer the somen to a platter and put lettuce, ha
m, surimi, and eggs on the noodles. Pour dressing on the salad and top with green onions. Enjoy!

Tips, Tricks and Tweaks:

1. Traditional somen salad uses Char-Siu instead of ham.
2. After cooking the noodles, it will stick to each o
ther so try adding a bit of sesame oil to it.
3. Experiment! Try scallops or shrimp instead of su

Makes for a good lunch meal too!


Meat Lovers' Yang Chow

We had an abundance of left-over meat in the fridge, so what better (and yummier) way to utilize it than to put it in fried rice. Actually, if I can have my way, I would probably eat Yang Chow Fried Rice everyday (hello, cholesterol!). It is basically a complete meal - carbs from rice, protein from meat or seafood, and vitamins from the veggies. Who could ask for more?

What you need:

  • 2 pieces Sweet Italian Sausage, sliced
  • 1/2 cup cubed ham
  • 1 Chinese Chorizo, sliced
  • 2 scrambled eggs, cut into strips
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • 1/4 cup frozen green peas
  • 1/4 cup frozen corn kernels
  • 3 - 4 cups of rice, cooked
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon Five-Spice powder
  • dash of sesame oil (optional)

What to do:

Put a tablespoon of vegetable oil in a wok and fry the sliced Italian Sausage until they hold their shape (becomes firm). Remove from the wok and set aside.

In the same pan, saute the garlic for about 30 seconds, then add the sliced Chorizo and diced ham. Cook for another 30 seconds, then put in the rice, corn and peas. Cook until heated through, around 3 to 5 minutes. Season with salt and five-spice powder according to taste. Stir frequently to separate rice clumps. Before serving, add a dash of sesame oil if the rice becomes too dry. Serve hot!

Tips, Tricks and Tweaks:

1. Refrigerated rice is best to use when cooking fried rice as it is already "hard" enough and won't get too mushy.
2. Feel free to use any left-over meat or veggies you have in the fridge. Yang Chow's basic elements are rice, meat, seafood, eggs, and peas.
3. Chinese chorizo is somewhat oily, and will turn your rice reddish-yellow. If you think the rice is already too oily because of the c
horizo, skip the sesame oil.
4. Experiment with veggies! Add carrots, water chestnuts, scallions, etc!
5. Five-Spice powder is what gives the dish
a distinct "oriental" taste. Omit it if you don't like it.


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Thai Vegetable Noodle Soup

We like trying new stuff, so when we noticed this College Inn Thai Coconut Curry broth, we bought it, not even sure how we'd use it. Luckily, the carton came with two recipes on the back, and we decided to try it. We needed more veggies in our diet, anyway. :-)

This recipe follows the basic recipe found on the back of the carton, but as usual, we tweaked it to suit our preference.

What you need:

  • 1 1/2 cup diced cooked chicken
  • 1 cup chopped Vidalia onion
  • 2 cups broccoli florets
  • 1/2 cup diced carrots
  • 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2 small bundles of vermicelli
  • 1 carton (32 oz) College Inn Thai Coconut Curry Broth
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 1 cup coconut milk

What to do:

In a pot, boil a breast (or two) of chicken in lightly salted water. Set aside.

In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, cook the onion, broccoli, carrots, ginger, curry and red pepper flakes in oil for around thre
e minutes. Add the noodles, broth and lime juice. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to low.

Simmer for seven to ten minutes or until noodles are tender. Stir in coconut milk and diced chicken and heat through. Garnish with cilantro and green onions, and serve with lime wedges, if desired.

Tips, Tricks and Tweaks:

1. Fresh grated ginger works best, but you can alw
ays substitute it with powdered ground ginger. Use less, though, as the powdered ones are usually more concentrated.
2. Use thin spaghetti instead of vermicelli if you can
't find the latter in your regular grocery store.
3. Want more heat? Make it a full teaspoon of red pepper flakes.
4. Experiment! Try adding other veggies like red p
otatoes or green bell pepper.
5. Squeezing a lime wedge on the soup gives it a bit of a kick!


Kare Kare (Beef Stew in Peanut Sauce)

Traditionally, Kare-Kare is made of oxtail and tripe. However, each recipe varies from family to family, and there is no "exclusive" set of ingredients to make this hearty dish.

This was my first time to try making Kare-Kare from scratch. Normally, I just use a store-bought peanut sauce mix but the taste is different from the one I grew up with. Not in a bad way, but I thought it was kind of sweeter than what my mom used to make. So I did the inevitable - I made it with good old-fashioned natural peanut butter. I must say, I felt like I hit the Kare-Kare jackpot. It was thick, perfect, and delicious. Now if I can only say the same about the store-bought shrimp paste I used...

What you need:

1 pound beef sirloin, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 1/2 cup of natural peanut butter
1/2 head of garlic
1/2 medium onion
6 pieces baby bok choy, lower part trimmed
1/4 head of cabbage
1/2 cup cut green beans
salt, to taste
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon corn starch dissolved in 1/2 cup beef stock

What to do:

In a pot, boil the beef in enough water for an hour or so, till it is tender. Remove the scum as it rises. Strain and keep the beef stock.

Heat the oil in a pot. Saute the garlic and onions for around 30 seconds. Add the meat, cook for a minute, then pour in all the stock and the cornstarch mixture. You may also add the green beans and cabbage, as they cook longer. Let simmer for 10 minutes, then add the remaining vegetables. Continue simmering for another 5 to 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a bowl, combine the peanut butter and about 1/2 cup of the hot stock. Add it to the pot and stir well to blend. Let cook for 5 minutes, or until the sauce thickens. Adjust taste according to preference by adding salt. Serve with hot rice and shrimp paste.

Tips, Tricks and Tweaks:

1. Try other veggies with it like eggplant or banana bud
2. Some recipes add a bit of all-purpose cream to make it thicker and creamier.
3. Traditional kare-kare uses oxtail and tripe. I used beef sirloin for this "Western" version.
4. If you want a reddish tint to the sauce, use annatto (atsuete) seeds soaked in hot water.
5. Instead of corn starch, use rice flour to thicken the stock.
6. Best if you use natural peanut butter as it is less sweet.
7. *Updated 6/23/2010* Use beef broth and/or water to boil the beef, as it would add more flavor to the dish.

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