Bangus Belly ala Pobre

First off (for my Western readers), "bangus" is milkfish. It is not common here in the US, in fact, I could only get it from the Asian store. Maybe because they are commonly found in the Pacific, and I imagine it costs a lot to export them. So I can only buy them frozen (I really miss fresh ones!). 

I don't know why this dish is called "bangus ala pobre." Some say that it is because this dish originally uses lesser quality (beef) steak cuts, therefore the term  "pobre" which literally translates to "poor" in Spanish.

Some say that it is from the French word "poivre" which is pepper - the fish is cooked with lots of pepper in it.

Whatever the real meaning is, we might never know. But here is what I know - we thoroughly enjoyed this dish. It was delicious, and the caramelized onion added a sweet depth to the meal. And of course, the garlic bits are my favorite part.  It also didn't hurt that we used belly steaks - the best part of the fish!

What you need: 

2 bangus belly (about 200g each)
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 large Vidalia onion, cut into rings
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon Canola oil
salt and pepper, to taste
toasted garlic bits (optional)

What to do:

Season fish (both sides) with salt and pepper.

Heat oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Lightly fry the fish until slightly brown. Remove from pan and keep warm.

In the same pan, add onion rings and cook until caramelized (about 2 to 3 minutes). 

In a small bowl, combine lime juice, Worcestershire sauce and soy sauce. Mix well.

Put the lightly fried fish back into the pan (with the caramelized onion rings). Pour the lime juice / soy sauce mixture on top of the fish. Let simmer for about a minute, or until heated through. Serve with sprinkled toasted garlic bits on top.

Tips, Tricks, and Tweaks: 

1. DO NOT overcook fish. It will dry up and become hard. Don't be scared if you didn't fry it to a crisp - it would still cook when you simmer it with the liquids.
2. Don't like onion too much? Slash the amount in half. (I just happen to love onions so I put a lot in this dish!).
3. Use calamansi or lemon to substitute for lime.

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Pork Belly Stir-Fry with Noodles and Basil

This recipe is from the book that my sister-in-law gave me a few months ago. The book (I Love Bacon!) has so many great recipes, all of them contributed by chefs around the world. I was looking forward to making Iron Chef Cat Cora's "Pig Candy Ice Cream" but that would have to wait as we still have ice cream in the freezer. 

This dish was contributed by Chef Ian Chalermkittichai (hope I spelled that right), chef and owner of Cuisine Concept Co., Ltd. I had to tweak it a bit and substitute some ingredients to use available resources. It turned out to be awesome - a bit spicy but very flavorful. So now I am wishing I made more...

What you need: 

1 tablespoon canola oil
1 finger chili pepper
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon ginger, thinly sliced
1/4 cup basil (plus more for serving)
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
3 tablespoons coconut milk
1/4 cup chicken stock
1/2 tablespoon peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/2 pound rice noodles, soaked in cold water for 30 minutes
6 slices pork belly, cut into 1 inch pieces

What to do: 

Cook the pork belly (sliced bacon-style) by baking them like this. Or, you can put them on a skillet and fry them the old fashioned way. Let cool, then slice into 1 inch pieces.

Heat canola oil in a wok over low heat. Add the finger chili and garlic and cook, stirring for about 3 minutes. Add the ginger, 1/4 cup of  basil, fish sauce, oyster sauce, coconut milk, chicken stock, peppercorns, sugar, and rice noodles. Stir well to distribute ingredients evenly.

At the last minute, add the crispy pork belly and stir-fry quickly until everything is fully combined. Check and adjust the seasonings, if necesssary. Garnish with more basil and serve immediately.

Tips, Tricks and Tweaks: 

1. Original recipe called for green peppercorns and Thai basil. I used regular black peppercorns and sweet basil.
2. Adjust seasonings according to your taste. Skip the finger chili if you don't like spice. Add more coconut milk to tone down the heat (if using chili). 
3. If using green peppercorns, it should be fresh - not dried.
4. You can substitute pork belly with pre-packaged bacon. 


Dolmades (Stuffed Grape Leaves)

Hubby has been asking me to make Dolmades for the longest time (it is one of his favorites) and so I finally gave in one day. I don't mind making stuffed grape leaves. I like them too. The thing is - every grape leaf we have tried was different! Some are stuffed with rice, with couscous, with lamb, with herbs added, etc. The possibilities are endless!

I decided to make mine using ground pork. It would have been great if I had fresh grape leaves, but since I don't have a vineyard (hmmmm......), I used bottled grape leaves. So I toiled away (no kidding!) to prepare this special dish for hubby. Oh, you should have seen the look on his face when he saw what dinner was for that night... you'd think he won the lottery. 

A quick note, though. We learned that dolmades is good when freshly cooked - not so as leftovers. The grape leaves dry up when you heat it. So make a small batch. Or a big one, but invite friends over!

What you need: 

1 jar (1 lb) grape leaves
1.25 pound ground pork
6 cups beef broth
1 cup bulgur wheat
1 teaspoon minced garlic
3 tablespoons minced onion
1 teasoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
dash of dried oregano
juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil

What to do:

Carefully remove grape leaves from the jar. Fill a large pot with water (enough to cover the leaves entirely) and boil for about 20 minutes. This is to wash the brine off the grape leaves. Remove from heat and let cool.

Meanwhile, cook bulgur wheat according to package directions. Set aside to cool. 

In a bowl, combine pork, cooked bulgur wheat, garlic, onion, oregano, salt and pepper. Mix well (use your hands!). 

Take a piece of grape leaf and place it on a flat surface. Make sure there are no holes - if there are, try to patch it up by putting a smaller leaf on top of it. A whole grape leaf is big, so you can also cut it in half. Place about a tablespoonful of the meat mixture on the leaf. Fold the sides inward, then cover with the top part (the one nearest you) and roll (see pics). Continue doing so until you have used all your meat (or grape leaves).

Put the dolmades in a shallow pan (you can stack them - don't be scared!) and cover with a plate. This is so the grape leaves would not unravel. Pour enough broth to touch the surface of the plate. Add lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil. Cook on low heat for an hour. Serve hot!

Tips, Tricks and Tweaks:

1. Grape leaves are so delicate - handle with care!
2. Don't have bulgur wheat? Use couscous or rice.
3. Fresh grape leaves are always the best. If using fresh, you should also boil it, much like the bottled grape leaves.
4. Ground beef or lamb can be used in lieu of pork.
5. Some low-quality bottled grape leaves are "stringy" - avoid these.

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Capellini al Pomodoro ala Hubby

Every once in a while, hubby feels inspired to take over the kitchen and whip something up for me. And of course, who am I to say no to that generous offer? Not only does it mean less for me to do, it also shows me how "resourceful" hubby can be with whatever we have in the fridge/pantry.

A few days ago, he decided that he wanted capellini (which is a very thin Italian pasta - much like Angel Hair). Well, he rarely cooks from scratch so I wasn't shocked when he grabbed the bottled spaghetti sauce. What surprised me was what he got out next - burgundy wine. Mmmm... so he was up to something. The result was a simple yet flavorful semi-homemade dish that we both enjoyed. 

P.S. Pomodoro is just a fancy way of saying tomato sauce. ;-)

What you need:

4 cloves garlic, roughly minced
2 tablespoon garlic oil
1 lb smoked sausage, coined
1/4 cup Vidalia onion, chopped
2 bay leaves
3 tablespoons burgundy wine
dash of pepper
a bottle (10 oz) of your favorite spaghetti sauce
4 oz capellini pasta
julienned basil for garnish 
grated parmesan cheese for garnish

What to do: 

Cook noodles according to package directions. Drain and set aside.

Heat the garlic oil in a wok over medium-high. Add the onion and garlic, saute for a minute. Add  the coined sausage and season with pepper. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. 

Pour in your favorite spaghetti sauce and and burgundy wine. Stir well. Drop in the bay leaves. Reduce heat to low and let simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat.

Place cooked capellini pasta in bowls and ladle sauce on top. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and top with fresh julienned basil. Enjoy! 

Tips, Tricks and Tweaks: 

1. No sausage? Use ground meat and make a meat sauce!
2. Sliced green bell pepper would be a great addition to the sauce.
3. Don't cut cooking time - this allows the flavors to meld! (Actually, the longer the sauce simmers, the better!)


Chicken Marinated in Garlic Oil

This was the first recipe I used the garlic oil with. It was from the same edition of Everyday Food Magazine (July/August 2011). The dish was very, very tasty and I tried to make it a bit healthier by removing the chicken skin.

Ugh. What a harrowing experience. I would have preferred pre-skinned chicken, but that was not what I had in my fridge. So I took it upon myself to "peel the poultry." DO NOT attempt to do so, unless you are very good with the knife and not squeamish. I mean, I wasn't squeamish - but the experience was still too much for me.

Anyway... my family loved this dish. The lemon really gave it a kick and went so well with the chicken. The garlic oil was superb and gave the chicken a subtle garlic flavor. Try it!

What you need:

1/4 cup garlic oil (with some cloves)
1 lemon, cut into thin rounds
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/2 pound chicken leg quarters, skins removed (about 3 pieces)
coarse salt and ground pepper

What to do: 

In a large ziploc bag, combine garlic oil and cloves, lemon, parsley, and chicken. Shake to coat, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours (overnight is better).

Preheat oven to 450°F. Put the chicken leg quarters, lemon, and garlic cloves to a roasting pan or baking sheet covered in foil. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven until cooked through (about 170°F), around 30 to 35 minutes.

Tips, Tricks and Tweaks: 

1. I removed the chicken skin for health purposes. Feel free to try your recipe with chicken skin on.
2. If you have another lemon, squirt a  bit of juice on the chicken before serving.
3. Best served with steamed veggies or rice!


Garlic Oil

How cool is it to have garlic oil available at hand? It sure cuts your cooking time because you don't have to sauté the garlic anymore - the oil is already infused with it! Combining two staples is such a great idea. So when I saw this recipe in the July/August edition of Everyday Food Magazine, I immediately wanted to try it.

Oh, and it was great. I used it in several dishes (in fact, I am out already!) and will definitely make more. It was handy, quick, and very flavorful! (Recipes using garlic oil in my next posts!)

What you need:

1 head of garlic
1 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil

What to do:

Smash and peel the cloves of garlic. Transfer to a medium pot and add the cup of extra virgin olive oil. Heat over medium-low until bubbles form around the garlic, about 3 minutes. 

Let cook for 10 minutes, reducing heat to low if garlic begins to brown. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. 

Tips, Tricks and Tweaks: 

1. I would probably double the garlic for my next try - just because we love garlic and end up eating them with the dish.
2. Store in an airtight container and refrigerate. It will last for a week (or two!). 
3. Try in dishes where you would normally use sautéed garlic.
4. Not sure about using other types of olive oils - I use EVOO because it is first cold press. A lot of nutrients are lost when olive oils are refined using heat.
5. Use the garlic oil as a salad dressing. Yummy!


Chocolate Frog, Butterbeer, etc.

Can you guess which book/movie this frog is from?

Yep, Harry Potter. When we visited the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, I immediately had 2 things in mind - this chocolate frog, and Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans!

Like in the movie, this treat came with a wizard card inside. I was hoping to get Dumbledore (or even Godric Gryffindor), but I got Rowena Ravenclaw instead. I wouldn't have minded, if not for the scowl on her face. Couldn't she have smiled for posterity's sake? And UNlike the movie, Rowena stayed put in my card. So Ron Weasley's dialogue "you can't expect him (HER in this case) to hang around all day, can you?" does not work in the muggle world. ;-)

Why the scowl, Rowena?

Chocolate Frog, $9.95
Speaking of muggles, the servers at Three Broomsticks kept calling us "muggles". I didn't take any offense (I imagine some will), in fact I found it quite humorous. Especially since those servers didn't really deliver our drinks on flying broomsticks. ;-)

Of course, a trip to Hogsmeade wouldn't be complete without Butterbeer. I have always imagined how it would taste like, as they mentioned in the book that it would make house elves drunk, but not humans. Well, butterbeer will NOT make even house rats drunk. It tasted like soda with butterscotch, and it was DELICIOUS! However, you can only have one mug. It is overly sweet and unbearable if taken in large quantities.

Butterbeer is served in two ways - frozen, and liquid. We tried both, and we agreed that liquid is better. Frozen is more expensive, though. It was $2.99 for liquid and $3.99 for frozen, but if you want the commemorative cup (like in the pic), it is $9 and $12 (not sure as of time of writing!). Oh, and the frozen would give you brain freeze. ;-p

frozen and liquid butterbeer in their commemorative steins
I was pretty impressed with the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. From the "moving portraits" to the curios and merchandise - they were very authentic and made me feel transported to the world that I thought would only be possible in my books and the movies. The Forbidden Journey ride was amazing and state-of-the-art, though I felt like I just ate Puking Pastilles from Zonko's afterwards. You can even hear Moaning Myrtle in the restroom! I am a true fan - I have read all the books and watched all the movies - and I am very impressed with the park. My only complaint was that we didn't stay long enough to explore everything! That, and I wasn't able to buy Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans. 

The pictures talk and move!

This looks just like the wall in Sirius Black's house, right?

The Sorting Hat. It talks and actually gives orders instructions.

Ollivanders. The finest wand maker.

P.S. I found a website that contains better pictures of the theme park. Click here. (He was able to take pictures of the holograms and such, and had interesting things to say about the park, too!).


Kibbeh with Yogurt Garlic Sauce

Aside from Asian cuisine, Middle Eastern/Mediterranean also top our list of favorite food. There's something about how they eat - it seems to be a little lighter, healthier, and simpler. Although I must say, this dish that I made was probably a poor example of what I just said.

Kibbeh is a dish made of ground meat and rice or bulgur. According to Wikipedia, the word kibbeh comes from the Arabic word "kubbah" which means ball. However, for some reasons, all of the kibbehs I have had in restaurants were shaped like a football. It is but natural, of course, to make mine in the same shape. ;-)

Fair warning - this is probably one of the hardest dishes I have made. It was just so difficult to make those football shapes since there was no binder (the recipe didn't call for eggs). I promised myself I wouldn't make this again unless my family's life depended on it. If ever we have a craving for kibbeh, I would just make a trip to our favorite Lebanese resto. 

Don't let me scare you from trying, though. The dish was so good and tasty. I tweaked Emeril's recipe from here. And the yogurt garlic sauce went beautifully with the dish. It was so well worth the effort!

What you need:

For the shell:
1 cup bulgur wheat
1 pound ground beef
1/2 cup roughly chopped yellow onions
1 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper

For the filling:
1/2 pound ground beef
1/2 cup finely chopped yellow onions
1/2 cup almonds, roughly chopped
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Canola oil, for frying
yogurt garlic sauce (recipe follows)

What to do: 

To make the outer shells, cook bulgur wheat according to package directions. Make sure to drain them in a strainer and press to remove excess liquid. Set aside to cool.

Using you food processor, blend the beef, onion, cumin, salt and pepper to a paste. Add bulgur wheat and mix well. Process again until you get a smooth consistency. Add ice water if it seemed dry. If your food processor is small (like mine), you might have to do it in batches.

To make the stuffing, brown the ground beef in a skillet over medium heat. Add onions, salt, allspice, pepper, and cinnamon. Stir well. Remove from heat, then add the almonds and stir again to distribute ingredients evenly. Set aside to cool.

To make the dish, use about two tablespoonfuls of the raw meat-bulgur mixture and form round  balls. Flatten the balls a bit and make a semi-hole down the center of each ball with your index finger. Stuff each ball with about one tablespoon of stuffing. Press down on the sides to enclose the stuffing and shape into an egg with pointed ends. Repeat with remaining ingredients.

Heat Canola oil in a deep frying pan over medium. Add the kibbeh balls and fry until brown, about 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and let drain on a cooling rack. Serve with yogurt garlic sauce.

Yogurt Garlic Sauce 

What you need: 

1 cup plain yogurt
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon minced fresh mint leaves
1/4 teaspoon salt

In a medium bowl, whisk the yogurt until smooth and creamy. Add the rest of the ingredients and whisk to combine. 

Tips, Tricks and Tweaks: 

1. Aside from beef, you can also use lamb.
2. Fine bulgur is best to use (I used medium).
3. The original recipe called for pine nuts. Since they are sooooo expensive, I substituted with almond.
4. Some recipes used mint leaves in the shell. Do so if you please.
5. Serve the dish with traditional labneh instead of the sauce.
6. Wet your hands frequently when shaping the balls.


Ginger-Garlic Steamed Red Snapper

Desperate times call for desperate measures. We have not been grocery shopping for a few weeks (gasp!) but for a good reason - we are trying to eat cheap empty our freezer. I noticed that we have been piling up meat, produce, and other whatnots that get buried underneath new food that we buy. So I decided to make a dish out of what I had, with the meager ingredients at hand.

It turned out really good - the dish was very light, healthy and delicious. The lemon added contrast to the fishy/garlicky taste. Best eaten with veggies (steamed asparagus, perhaps?).

What you need: 

1 pound red snapper (about 2 fillets)
2 tablespoons garlic, finely chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons ginger, finely chopped
1/3 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
salt and pepper, to taste
lemon, for garnish

What to do: 

Score the fish. Do this by lightly making diagonal cuts on the surface of the fish (make sure your knife doesn't go through the meat). After scoring, season both sides of the fish with salt and pepper.

In a bowl, combine ginger, garlic, parsley and olive oil. Mix well, then pour on top of the fish.

Place in a steamer and steam for 30 minutes. Transfer to a plate and drizzle with fresh lemon juice before serving.

Tips, Tricks and Tweaks: 

1. You can use tilapia, dory, or other white fish.
2. Try sesame oil instead of olive oil for an Asian flair. ;-)
3. Green onions would be a good addition to this dish.


Salmon with Brown Sugar and Bourbon Glaze

Looks like chicken, no?
Ah, salmon. My favorite fish. I could eat salmon everyday (if it wasn't so dang expensive). I could eat it whichever way prepared - poached, fried, marinated, grilled - even raw (sashimi, of course!). Chinook (or King Salmon) is my family's favorite because of its taste and fat content. Our least favorite is the Sockeye, but hey, any salmon is better than no salmon at all, right?

I was looking for a quick recipe - one that needs no 2-hour marinating - and found this recipe.  Fairly easy to make and I have all the ingredients at hand, so I tried it - and was very satisfied afterwards. It was very good, and the glaze that hardened on top offered a different kind of texture that I found very pleasing. It was like eating your dessert with your meal because the savory taste of the salmon blended well with the candied glaze. This recipe is a keeper!

What you need: 

3 (8 oz) salmon steaks
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup bourbon whiskey
1 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted

What to do: 

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add in brown sugar and stir. Place salmon fillets on top of brown sugar mixture, flesh side down (the skin should be facing you). Cook for about 5 minutes, then turn salmon and pour in the bourbon. Continue cooking for about 5  more minutes. 

Remove from heat, spoon glaze over the salmon and garnish with toasted sesame seeds.

Tips, Tricks and Tweaks:

1. If you don't want the sweetness to overpower the taste of your salmon, just use 1/4 cup of brown sugar.
2. Add a bit of soy sauce and a clove or two of garlic to give it a kick.
3. Don't overcook your salmon! Always not good!

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