Sunday, November 30, 2008

Why I Roast Chicken Instead of Turkey for Thanksgiving Day Dinner

The other week I wrote why I don't roast turkeys for Thanksgiving Day dinner anymore. So what I did I cook in lieu of turkey last Thursday? Well, I roasted the closest relative of the turkey, chicken. I made it a cut above by stuffing the plump supermarket-bought chicken with sweet rice, shiitake mushrooms and walnut chips. Weeks before Thanksgiving Day, we made a choice between ham and chicken, and chicken won out because the hams on sale were much too large for my family. So chicken it was.

A day after Thanksgiving, I went to my office and the topic of conversation among some of the staff members was what to do with leftover roasted turkey. A visitor, who happened to be a foodie, said that she converts leftover roasted turkey into paksiw na turkey, using the Mang Tomas lechon sauce to give it a tiny bit of connection with the original, and much loved, paksiw na lechon. I almost gloated because they were talking about what I had been avoiding for years: that of dealing with a lot of leftover roasted turkey after Thanksgiving. Well, I do not have to deal with that anymore because I swore off roasting turkey for TG dinner more than a decade ago.

Last Thursday, I cooked a cup of sweet rice first by soaking it in lukewarm tap water for about 30 minutes and boiling it in enough water until it is cooked, about 20 minutes. I then set that aside and I sauteed a teaspoon of minced garlic, 1 medium onion sliced thinly, 10 pieces of shiitake mushrooms (pre-soaked in water) and sliced into little squares, and 1/2 cup of walnut chips.

Then I added the cooked sweet rice, added 1/2 cup of green peas, and 1 cup of chicken broth. I let it simmer for about ten minutes, which was enough time for the rice to absorb the liquid. I would have added a box of raisins, but stopped short to reduce the sugar content of the stuffing. But non-diabetics may add raisins if they so desire. Dust it with 1/3 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/3 teaspoon ground black pepper to taste.

I took the plump 5-pound dressed chicken-- already completely thawed out-- from the fridge and removed the giblets from the cavity and put them in a small plastic bag for re-freezing. Then I thoroughly cleaned the cavity, making sure that no blood residues remained. I wiped the inside and outside of the bird with a paper towel and dusted it with kosher salt and ground black pepper.

Stuffing procedure

I took the cooked stuffing from the fridge and began stuffing the chicken with it, filling the entire cavity, leaving just enough room for the anticipated expansion of the rice stuffing, then I tied the ends of the drumsticks together with twine, and closed the cavity using some pointed toothpicks. The chicken is ready for roasting in a conventional oven.

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees and insert an oven thermometer in the thickest part of the breast, making sure that the thermometer's probe is not lodged in the breastbone. Roast for about 1 hour and 45 minutes, or until the thermometer shows an internal temperature of 150 to 160 degrees. To make the skin to acquire a golden color, I also brushed soft butter on the chicken a few minutes before it reached full doneness.

My TG chicken was perfectly roasted in 1 hour and fifty minutes, and the pictures show how good it looks. But serving it with a beef and asparagus soup with noodles and hard-boiled eggs, and a two-pound loaf of Italian panettone bread beats just looking at the photos. You may try it next Thanksgiving Day or any day, and not worry about what to do with leftovers because there wouldn't be any.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Filipino Cuisine Finally Gets Featured in Saveur, a Mainstream Culinary Magazine in the United States

Two days ago I received an urgent e-mail from an ardent foodie somewhere in North America. My unofficial correspondent noted that Filipino cuisine is featured in Saveur Magazine, a mainstream culinary magazine published monthly in the United States. It piqued my curiosity, and so I joined the holiday crowds snatching bargains during the annual Black Friday shopping spree, and bought a copy of the December issue of Saveur from Barnes & Noble in Burbank, California.

This is a major development, not only for foodies like me, but also for the entire Filipino ex-pat community in the United States. This seminal event deserves the support of food-loving Filipinos living in North America. We can make it better by buying a copy of the December issue of Saveur to make an impression on the magazine's publishers. If even just a quarter of the estimated 3 to 4 millions Filipinos living in North America bought a copy of the December issue of Saveur, it would make a huge impression on its publishers and show how large a consuming public we really are. Hopefully, with that show of support, we could enlighten the path of other mainstream publications in North America to pay attention to our unique culinary traditions, as well as other attractive aspects of our beautiful country. Tourism is the first thing that comes to mind. And while we are on the subject, why don't I suggest culinary tourism?

Surfing through the food and cooking blogspots emanating from the Philippines, I have discovered to my delight that it has made quantum leaps in its culinary evolution. Following a North American fascination with the new celebrity darlings -- chefs, cooks, and cooking advocates -- the Philippines is making huge strides in showcasing what can be considered one of its national pastimes: foods and holiday feasts. This renewed focus on foods and cooking has not escaped the attention of foods and cooking icons, from Andrew Zimmern, who brought his Travel Channel show, "Bizarre Foods", to the Philippines last year and merrily sampled the country's uncommon delicacies -- from baluts in Pateros, Rizal, to raw coconut tree worms in Palawan. And there's more. This coming January or early February, chef Tony Bourdain, an irreverent and funny foods and lifestyle commentator cum traveler, who enjoys a widespread following in the country, will unveil a full "Without Reservations" show on Filipino cuisine -- from chef Claude Tayag's home-restaurant destination in Pampanga, the country's culinary epicenter, to Talisay's (in Cebu province) famous pig lechon. These developments are creating a buzz among foodies everywhere, and they augur well for the country. The Philippines is finally getting its just desserts.

The nine-page spread in Saveur is titled "DAYS OF FEASTING" and is chockful of color photographs taken by David Hagerman and written by Robyn Eckhardt. The feature focuses on the Christmas holiday culinary traditions in the province of Pampanga and the article also showcases four recipes on Ensaimada, Adobong Manok, Ulang sa Gata and Pinakbet. That's just a peek of the entire feature article, enough to tease your appetite and make you run to your closest newsstand or bookstore to buy a copy. We hope that you could do your patriotic bit and get yourself a copy of the December issue of Saveur. My gosh, at five bucks, that's cheaper than some of McDonald's burger lunch combos.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Salakot Sizzle and Grill Restaurant Covers The Los Angeles Fine Dining Scene

An American lawyer who was married to a Filipino woman once told me that Filipinos in California do not habitually go to Filipino restaurants for sit-down dinners. He probably knew what he was talking about because at the time he made that observation he and and his wife were the owners of a Filipino restaurant in the Filipino-rich city of West Covina. Their restaurant had been taken over long ago by another owner, and the American lawyer had died.

One of the riskiest businesses in the food industry is the restaurant segment. Majority of restaurants opened do not make the grade and end up closing or saved from extinction by other restaurant operators or first-time restaurateurs. Despite this grim statistics, restaurants keep sprouting up in the Los Angeles basin like the proverbial mushrooms.

Around twenty years or so ago, Bayanihan Restaurant and Greenhills Restaurant -- separated by a distance of less than one-half mile on Beverly Blvd. in L.A. -- lorded it over the restaurant scene in that part of town. Bayanihan was the first to close in the mid-90s, and Greenhills, although still open, is no longer owned by the original founder. In the mid-80s, when Greenhills opened, it attracted lunchtime crowds from as far away as the mid-Wilshire district, some three miles away. Presently, there are four Filipino restaurants of note doing business in the Historic Filipinotown section of L.A. Bayanihan on Beverly Blvd., close to LaFayette Park, Kapistahan, and Bahay Kubo Natin on Temple Street, and the latest addition, Salakot Sizzle and Grill on Beverly Blvd.

A good number of Filipino restaurants have been successful for many years for various reasons. Some of these restaurants served topnotch Filipino foods, but eventually lost patronage due to their ambiance. Others achieved good reputations for the kind of entertainment fare that they offer, but came short in the culinary department. Others lost their viability due to a failure to maintain the quality of their food offerings. Still others closed or were sold for reasons that were never made clear to the community, like a very popular Filipino restaurant in Glendale that was shuttered about two years ago and had re-opened in adjacent Eagle Rock under new owners.

Salakot is located right smack in the center of Historic Filipinotown. Owner Ramoncito Ocampo, a lawyer and Christian church minister, says Salakot was established to address the lack of Filipino fine-dining restaurants in Los Angeles where diners could come and enjoy Filipino cuisine even when they are dressed to the nines. The brand-new restaurant is ensconced in a purpose-built two-storey building located on Beverly Blvd., a block southwest of Alvarado Street. If you are an Angeleno worth your salt, you'd easily find that location.

On Wednesday, November 26, I got to visit the new eatery during a press conference called by a large community organization, and I sampled some of its traditional Filipino fare, including, bulalo (boiled beef shank and bones with marrow and bok choy, cabbage and potatoes), $10.50; pancit miki/bihon, $8.75; and a seafood platter that consisted of steamed shrimps and mussels, grilled giant squid, and steamed pompano with tomato and onion stuffing, with boiled eggplant and okra sides and bagoong and onion with vinegar sauces; and pork (or chicken barbecue). The Salakot Seafood Platter is good for four to five persons and costs $31.95. A pretty good deal.

The selection of entrees is varied and reasonably priced. The lunch express selection consists of barbecue items served with soup, cucumber, garlic fried rice and vegetable/chicken roll, at prices from $5.95 up to $8.95 for beef short ribs, chicken and pork barbecue on stick.

The ambiance is bright and airy, with a mezzanine level that's designated for private banquets of 50 to 60 persons. In the back is a spacious free parking space good for about 20 or more cars. Salakot's address is 2122 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90057. Tel: (213) 483-0303 and fax: (213) 483-0361. Business hours are Monday to Thursday, from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturdays, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Sundays, from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.

It's Skate Time; Not the Kind that You Put on Your Feet

If you have lived in the coastal towns of Bulacan, Pampanga and Bataan, chances are you've tasted young skates (pagi) cooked in the style that's indigenous to the region. Well, I have, and my taste for pinais na pagi had not diminished even after I moved to America more than twenty years ago. It would be many years, however, before I would discover that skates were available in some Asian markets in Los Angeles. A few years ago, when we began shopping the Korean-owned supermarkets in the mid-Wilshire district, along north Western Avenue in Los Angeles, and the Korean supermarket in my city of Glendale, I found out to my delight that they do sell dressed, fresh-frozen skates. The prices are not cheap. But they come in the right size, which I was familiar with when my mother used to cook them in her hometown of Samal, in the Bataan peninsula. My great aunt, who used to have a stall in the public market of Samal, taught my mother how to cook pinais na pagi. She also taught her to pick the pagi that were not so large because they taste less wild as the larger ones. You could buy a whole pagi, not larger than the diameter of a big pan (around 20-inch wide, wingtip to wingtip). Fish vendors who also sold large skates cut them down to smaller pieces, suitable for making into sinigang na pagi.

I preferred the smaller ones. You can only achieve a genuine pinais na pagi if you can find the key ingredients that go with the recipe: alagaw or alagao leaves, which was readily available for plucking from a neighbor's tree in Samal. Even when I got married and settled in Pasay City, where my wife's family owned a house, we had a mature alagaw tree in the yard. But skates were not available in Pasay markets. So even though we had the alagaw tree, I coudn't cook pinais na pagi. Not a big problem since I was the only member of my extended family who had the intestinal fortitude and the experience to eat pagi.

On Monday, I pleaded with my wife for us to shop California Market at the corner of Western Avenue and 6th Street in Los Angeles. I didn't cook dinner that evening, and it was a good time to shop for some easy-to-prepare dinner fare. California Market has one of the largest selections of ready-to-grill Korean-style barbecue beef, pork and chicken, kimchee pickles, and a wide variety of Asian produce. I sauntered over to the seafood section, and I found what I was secretly craving for: skate. They were selling at $3.99 a pound. I picked a half of a skate (about a pound), already dressed and the slimy skin taken off. What I miss, though, is the liver, which is traditionally cooked with the pinais and smashed and mixed with vinegar and a little salt and served as a dipping sauce. Skate is obviously big with Korean-Americans here in Southern California because I couldn't find skate in other ethnic markets in our neck of the woods.

I couldn't wait another day to cook my pinais at home, and also I did not want to freeze the skate. So I proceeded to make the pinais na pagi, minus the alagaw leaves since I have yet to find a market source or an actual alagaw tree in Los Angeles. But some of you may know of the existence of one and could point me to it. The following is the procedure for preparing pinais na pagi.

Since, the skate is already dressed and cut into the right size, I just dust it with a bit of salt and I proceed to slice one medium-size tomato, one medium-size onion, a 1-inch piece of ginger, sliced into strips, and 2 stalks of spring onion or leeks ( in lieu of alagaw leaves), cut into thin strips cross-wise; 1/4 cup of Japanese rice vinegar (or palm vinegar); 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of ground black pepper, and one (1) cup of water.


Saute ginger, onions and tomatoes, add the skate and let simmer for about three minutes, long enough for the skate to absorb the flavors of the ginger, onions and tomato. Add the water and the vinegar. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to low and let simmer for about seven minutes. That should be enough time to cook the skate. Over-cooking is bad for its tender and gelatinous meat and bones. Season with salt or fish sauce (patis) and ground black pepper; garnish with the spring onions. I kicked it up a notch by drizzling a few drops of sesame oil and Japanese soy sauce to give it an Asian touch. But these last ingredients are optional and not part of the original pinais na pagi of my youth.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Chef Cecilia de Castro, a Wolfgang Puck Protege, in Person

On Sunday, November 23, I was lucky to meet for another time Chef Cecilia de Castro, during a project launching event at the La Canada, California residence of businessman and civic leader Mike and Nimia Cucueco. Chef Cecilia, who is the President of Academy of Culinary Education ( in Northridge, is one of the Outstanding Kapampangan Awards honorees during the Pampanga Day Celebration at the San Gabriel Hilton on December 14, 2008. We have met on several occasions in the past when she was doing cooking demonstrations and, at another time, in a party that she catered for Grace Walker, a prominent Glendale, California civic leader and entrepreneur.

But this time around our meeting was more productive, and hopefully, more collaborative. I informed the distinguished Kapampangan -- one of a growing number of American-trained chefs -- that I had begun writing a food and cooking blog, and that our meeting was auspicious because this time around I could write about her for the first time. About three years ago, I had attempted to write about Chef Cecilia for a now defunct monthly magazine. But that article never came into fruition for some reasons. I told Chef Cecilia that I had written quite a few blogs about food and cooking in since a month ago, and those articles are now accessible in the Forum and Bulletin Board of (formerly She told me that she would be very interested in rellenong bangus, and asked me if I could demonstrate how to make it to her culinary classes at ACE. Of course. Who would decline such an offer from a former Wolfgang Puck chef? Long before chefs became the new celebrity darlings, Chef Cecilia was already cutting her teeth working under the aegis of celebrity chef and culinary innovator Wolfgang Puck, making her the first FilAm to achieve such a stature.

At any rate, this blog is dedicated to Chef Cecilia and her staff. I couldn't wait for Chef Cecilia to talk about the array of foods that her catering outfit had prepared on Sunday. It included baked mussels and okoy (shrimp and veggie cakes) appetizers, which she prepared in her own signature style; Filipino-style tamales, and puto (rice cakes). Her take on the okoy was quite interesting and lent itself to convenient ingestion, as the okoys were fried while attached to forks. That way, the guests only needed to hold the fork and bite from it. Quite innovative, I must say. For the main courses, Chef Cecilia prepared a traditional Kapampangan stalwart, bringhe. What it is is a rice and poultry dish that traces its origin to the Spanish paella. It even looks like paella, with its yellow color. Chef Cecilia told the guests that she used "dilaw" or turmeric to give it a yellow color and uses coconut milk for liquid instead of water. "I also used deboned chicken," she said. "That way you can enjoy it without having to bother with the bones." She also cooked Pancit Luglug, which is Pampanga's version of the popular Pancit Malabon. The "luglug" word originated from the method of immersing the rice noodles in hot water or stock. She said that "luglug" meant shake in English, and describes the action of shaking the noodles in a large salaan ( a large colander) to take the excess water out after immersing. Her Pancit Luglug is festooned with shrimps, pork bits, sliced hard-boiled eggs, and sprinkled with ground chicharon (pork skin crackles) and given a reddish color with the addition of atchuete (anatto). The other garnish and condiments -- such as spring onions, fried garlic bits, patis, and slices of calamansi (Philippine lime) are contained in separate containers on a tray.

Mike's family cook, Amy Oliver, cooked the exquisite caldereta. I recognized it immediately for she cooked an exact same entree during the dinner that followed the performance of the ArtiSta.Rita theater group earlier this year. Amy's caldereta was so sublime, it reminds me of my mother's own take on that Filipino classic. Mike's younger brother, Jun, also an avid cook, cooked his original version of goto (porridge), in which he used not tripe, but beef tongue, sliced into small pieces. He also utilized boiled quail eggs instead of chicken or duck eggs. I do use meats other than tripe in my own version of goto. In addition to tripe, I have used pig's snout and ears. And they give the goto a more gelatinous consistency.

To cap an impressive lunch, Chef Cecilia served an exquisite sans rival and a fruits platter of sliced pineapple, watermelon, strawberries, and bunches of red table grapes. A coffee machine was burbling full time and I must have imbibed four cups of fullbore coffee before the event was over.

Chef Cecilia introduced me to her latest concoctions, a drink, and she calls it mansitini (Martini that uses calamansi juice). She said the mix is two parts of vodka, one part calamansi, and one part syrup. I tried it and I agree with a lot mansitini converts that is it very good, indeed. "It is quite potent," says Chef Cecilia. "A lot of men who thought that it was just a cocktail got drunk with it."

The Pampanga Day Celebration on December 14 at the San Gabriel Hilton Hotel will feature a food festival. Pampanga, unquestionably the Philippines' culinary capital, is the origin of a veritable array of culinary firsts. At the Pampanga Day Celebration one of the centerpiece events will be a food festival where Kapampangan and other Filipino delicacies will be offered for the enjoyment of the fair-goers and guests. Chef Cecilia will be in the middle of it all.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Why I Don't Roast Turkey on Thanksgiving Day Anymore

In less than a week, we will be celebrating Thanksgiving Day, America's most time-honored tradition. It is a holiday that we can relate to because it focuses on our love for foods and feasts. But could you honestly say that you fall for that whole roast-turkey-and cranberry-sauce-dinner American tradition? Through the years, I have seen people in my community celebrating Thanksgiving with turkey as their centerpiece dinner entree. But I am not sure if everyone enjoyed eating the huge birds. I have nothing against people serving turkey if they actually get consumed to the bones. But I have seen examples of really badly-roasted birds that ended up as turkey soup the next day because the guests preferred binging on traditional Filipino fare, like morcon, embotido, rellenong bangus, and caldereta.

I grew up wishing I could eat more turkey back home. But even the backyard-grown turkey in my small barrio in the province of Bulacan were so expensive, they assumed the status of caviar. Now that we are living in the States where these fowls are so common and inexpensive, we are faced with the dilemma of roasting them on Thanksgiving Day because the rest of America does, even though some of us don't really enjoy cooking and eating them.

I used to belong to that misguided minority years ago. I jumped into the spirit of the holiday by roasting a turkey, even though I knew that even the smallest turkey available would be too big for my family. But the result of my first turkey-roasting adventure was less than satisfactory. So after a couple of attempts more than ten years ago, I swore off the tradition and decided I could save more money and time buying holiday turkey dinner from Boston Market in neighboring Burbank, California. I then cooked my own repertoire of Filipino classics to supplement the feast. It's been that way ever since.

On Tuesday, I attended a press conference at the San Gabriel store of 99 Ranch Markets where they are promoting a Thanksgiving Day turkey dinner package. It came with a Chinese-style 12-pound roast turkey with Asian sweet rice stuffing, a pound cake, a dozen dinner rolls, and a bottle of Baron Phillipe de Rothschild Cabernet Sauvignon for $53.99 until Monday, November 24. After that, the price goes back to $59.99. I actually got to taste a slice of a sample bird, and I was amazed that I liked it very much. The reason is that the turkey was prepared Chinese-style, and to my taste buds, it replicated the taste of a Chinese-style roast duck, and to push the envelope a little further, that of roast pork. This is not to denigrate the unique character of turkey meat by comparing it with duck meat or pork. But the taste of that roast turkey really hit the spot with me.

Would I buy that roast turkey meal combo? No. The reason being that I do not need a 12-pound turkey for Thanksgiving dinner. But I would if I could get a smaller serving that's enough for a small family like mine. I swear I was converted because that Chinese take on a traditional American favorite appealed to my acquired taste.

On Thursday, I have the options of preparing a roast chicken or my special Chinese-style ham, whichever would be cheaper at Ralphs this weekend. If I cooked the roast chicken, I would make a stuffing of Asian sweet rice with nuts and dried shiitake mushrooms. If I opt for the ham, I would boil the 5 to 6-pound Farmer John or Cooks ham in pineapple juice, make a glaze from some of the remaining stock and add brown sugar and a little salt, and inject some of the stock into the ham with a plastic syringe. I would score the ham like a checkerboard, stick whole cloves in the crevasses and bake it at 350 degrees for about an hour. I would take it out of the oven and brush glaze on it before slicing the ham with a sharp knife and serving it. The combination of the pineapple juice, brown sugar, and the aroma of cloves is quite unforgettable.

These are just my words. If you have a varying opinion, please click on the "comments" link and tell me what you think.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Tapa, One of Our Oldest Favorites and One of the Easiest to Prepare

Tapa is probably one of the oldest culinary inventions known to us Filipinos. It is probably as old as the ingredient that makes it last for as long as it has: salt. Back in the day before refrigeration was invented, one of the most common methods of preserving food was to salt and sun-dry them, as in tapa. Along the way, homemakers added other ingredients to the basic tapa, like ground black pepper, garlic and a little sugar, plus saltpeter (salitre) to make the preservation even more long-lasting. But I had a rude awakening during a camping trip to Bishop years ago when a friend of mine surprised me with his own, simple version of tapa. His take was so simple, a non-cook could make it. When I fried my friend's beef tapa, I knew from the aroma that his would be the version that I would prepare from that day on. I have been replicating his recipe since that al fresco breakfast on the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains in Bishop, California five years ago. He told me that his mother handed the recipe down to the family. Edgar's tapa recipe is Pampango in origin, and it achieves that distinction because it acquires a slightly musty aroma and a tangy taste after leaving the tapa out of the fridge for a couple or more days after it is treated. The longer you keep it out of the fridge, the mustier it will smell and more tangy it will taste. I put my tapa in the fridge after two or three days, depending on the weather. The colder the weather, the longer I keep it out. Today, the tapa that I prepared on Sunday will stay out of the fridge for three days. It will be ready to fry on Wednesday evening when my daughter would ask, "Dad, what's for dinner?" and I would be lazy to cook anything else and would answer, "beef jerky."


(2) pounds of beef chuck, sirloin, tenderloin, or London broil, sliced 4 to 5-mm thick
(2) tablespoons salt
(1) tablespoon sugar


Mix the salt and sugar together and sprinkle the mixture on the sliced meat; do not rub on the meat. Place in a covered container and keep in room temperature for two to three days, depending on the level of fermentation that you prefer.

Some people prefer to have their tapa smelling a little musty and tasting a little tangy. And that's the way I like them too.

Please voice your comment, good or bad, by clicking on "comments" and typing your impressions.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Mitsado or Mechado, Minus the Mitsa

There are things that we have to give up sometimes when cooking Filipino foods in America. One of them is cooking a classic mitsado or mechado the way our mothers used to prepare it back home years ago. When we talk about mitsado, the key is getting the mitsa (wick) from the market and getting the tindera to poke a hole on your beef and insert a long 1/2-inch thick piece of pork fat in that hole, and you were halfway done to a classic mitsado. You then took it home along with the other ingredients, including tomatoes, garlic, onions, and mushrooms. I like to use dried shiitake, which is inexpensive and available in Asian markets here in Los Angeles. A 5-ounce (142 gram) bag costs less than four bucks at California Market on Western Avenue in the Mid-Wilshire district.

This morning, I cut a 2.5-lb piece off of a 6-pound cut of chuck ($1.29 a pound at Ralphs and at Vons this week) to make my own version of mitsado, minus the mitsa. This recipe hews to what I came to know as pot roast, common in mainstream American kitchens, but I add my own touch -- for instance -- the use of shiitake mushrooms. I love these mushroom variety for its sweet, delicious flavor and slightly chewy texture after they are cooked. It adds a layer of flavor to my mitsado. The other ingredients that I considers musts in this recipe are:

(2) bay leaves
(2) medium size onions, sliced
(3) closes of garlic, minced
(1/4) teaspoon ground black pepper
(1/4) teaspoon salt
(1/4) cup soy sauce
(1/4) cup Japanese rice vinegar, or palm vinegar
(2) medium size red potatoes cut into 1-inch cubes
(2) medium size tomatoes
(10) or more pieces of shiitake mushrooms, soaked in lukewarm water
(3) cups of water for stewing
(3) tablespoons cooking oil for searing the meat and for sauteing
(1) teaspoon cornstarch
(1/4) cup red wine


Sear all sides of the chuck (beef round is also O.K.) in very hot oil in a wok or a non-stick pan. Transfer the meat to a large stockpot or a non-stick saucepan. Add the garlic, then the onions, and saute until golden brown. Add (3) cups of water, the tomatoes, ground black pepper, salt, vinegar and soy sauce. Boil covered on low fire until meat is tender (around 30 to 45 minutes). I like mine to fall off the bone. When tender, remove from pot, and gather the remaining stock and all the ingredients (except the bay leaves) and transfer to a blender for processing.

After the ingredients are rendered, put the mixture back in the stockpot, together with the meat, and add the shiitake mushrooms and simmer until they are tender. Add the one-inch potato cubes, season to taste with more salt if needed; thicken the sauce with 1 teaspoon corn starch, and finish off with 1/4 cup of red wine. Slice into thin cross-grain pieces and serve while warm. I still miss the sight of the melting mitsa when slicing my mitsado. But what the heck, I can live with that.

Please indicate your agreement or disagreement by clicking on "comments" and typing in your impressions.

Friday, November 14, 2008

My Unique Take on the Popular Bulalo Soup

Many, many moons ago, when gas prices in Manila was a peso per liter, it was not considered profligate to drive down to Santo Tomas, Batangas and plunk down some hard-earned money for a bowl of steaming bulalo soup. Those were the heydays of this popular Filipino gastronomic find, following the unprecendented popularity of crispy pata many years before it. I never found out how the inventors of this beef bone soup arrived at the moniker bulalo. And my admitedly limited knowledge of Tagalog names for a cow's anatomical parts precluded my ever learning how the name bulalo came to denote beef bones soup. But I stopped snooping around and just concentrated on enjoying it.

It would be many more years when I got to cook bulalo on my own terms, here in Los Angeles, where one could buy soup bones that actually had meat and tendon on them. Sometime in the mid-90s, my wife met an elderly man who hailed from Northern Luzon who was familiar with uncommon vegetables that were grown in the farms of Mountain Province. It was one of those lesser known but suprisingly good vegetables that were not as prominent and well known as say, pechay (bok choy) and kang-kong (known here as swamp greens). This veggie is called watercress. And they are available in grocery stores and in farmer's markets. To the uninitiated, it could pass for cilantro, almost. I do not know its name in Filipino, but I am told by this elderly man that they were grown in and around Baguio City and sold in its public market. I did not have an opportunity to encounter watercress in Baguio City, but I am quite sure that I had eaten some in the "Slaughter House" restaurants somewhere in the city's periphery, where slaughterhouse-fresh beef was elevated to the status of the best nilagang baka (boiled beef with vegetables) in the whole archipelago. I have now a hazy recollection that those boiled beef in these unpretentious diners were somehow tweaked with the slightly bitter flavor of watercress.

That senior citizen gifted us with a couple of bunches of watercress and suggested that I use it on nilagang baka. But I did him one better by using the greens to customize my bulalo soup. There's only one Filipino restaurant in Los Angeles in the early 90s that treated bulalo in a style that's quite unique and had a taste that's memorable. The Jeepney Grill (now closed), located at the corner of Alexandria and 6th Streets in the mid-Wilshire area, achieved an unrivaled reputation for its unique take on bulalo soup. Their version had sesame seeds sprinkled on the soup, plus julienne-cut carrots, and the bok choi.

After my fortuitous introduction to the watercress, I began concocting my own version of bulalo soup with watercress and bok choi. And that was it. A little sprinkle of ground pepper, fish sauce (patis) and salt. Tonight, after a marathon boiling session, in which I tenderized a kilo of supermarket-bought bones with meat and tendons still sticking on them, I threw in a few cubes of beef chuck to give it more meat, and my bulalo was almost complete. A quick run to a nearby Vons Supermarket produced a bunch of watercress ($1.29 a bunch). I cut off the stems, threw one-half of the bunch into the stew, and added one large bok choi sliced into three-inch pieces. My bulalo is the best foil for a nippy autumn evening in the Southland.

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Have You Hiked Mt. Hollywood Trail Lately?

Mt. Hollywood is just fifteen minutes drive away from where I live and yet the last time I hiked this peak was some five years ago. On November 13, egged on by my photo buddy Vics, and his friend who was visiting from Montana, I agreed to join them in a hike on this urban mountain. I packed some twenty pounds of photo gear and provisions in my camera bag and we met at the newly-refurbished Griffith Observatory located on the foothills of Mt. Hollywood.

My daughter, Justine, whose most strenuous form of exercise is lounging on the couch watching her favorite television shows, came along to cheer me on. This 2500-foot peak has been razed by wildfires during the last decade, the last one was particularly devastating and lasted for days. It burned almost three-quarters of the mountain. The signs of that most recent fire are still evident and I noted them as we hiked along the fire road that leads to the summit known here as "Adam's Peak". The ground is mostly bare of ground cover; green grass is still very scarce, and native vegetation that have sprouted are few and far between.

Surprisingly enough, the decades-old pine and palm trees that line the roads leading to the Observatory have not been touched by the fires. But the the ground brush and native vegetation on the mountainsides bore the brunt of the conflagrations. There were painted signs warning of rattlesnakes and mountain lions, but we did not see any of those critters. The approximately 1.5 to 2-mile trail took me and Justine some fifty minutes to negotiate. That was not so bad since the last time we hiked on this trail was some five years ago, just before that last big fire.

Three-quarters of the way, and about ten minutes to the summit, we encountered a moderate grade and had to stop to rest and to take swigs from the water bottle. I also used my monopod as a cane to help me walk to the summit. We got there at quarter to five, just in time to capture the magnificent sunset that was made redder by the thick LA smog. Vics and his friend filed in five minutes later. I had a blast taking photos of the sunset's afterglow on our way down. We met some more hardy joggers and some young family members on their way up to the summit. I was also amazed to see that there were a number of young and unescorted women joggers who ran up and down the trail even at the twilight hour, an indication that the public park is indeed safe even at this time.

Back home, that hike gave my legs a severe beating and they felt like melting butter. But the one-hour hike gave us the feeling of having put in a week's worth of cardiovascular workout. So we promised to do it on a regular basis, with my wife in tow the next time.

I always prepare on the side of caution whenever I go on outdoor trips like this one. I lugged more than enough provisions than needed for the reason that if we got lost or stranded, we would have enough food and water to survive longer. On this hike, I brought several breakfast cereal bars, a box of raisins, fig newtons, cookies, and more than enough water, being a member of the media (Me diabetes) there's a need to eat often. It weighed me down, but I was content in the knowledge that we would not get hungry for several hours. Next time, I will also carry a small flashlight.

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