Thursday, December 25, 2008

My Take on Holiday Ham and Morcon (Beef Rolls)

On Christmas eve morning I began a grueling task of cooking three Filipino favorites: my special pineapple-flavored ham, rellenong bangus (stuffed milkfish) and morcon (beef rolls). I am going to document here how to prepare the ham and the morcon, having already written about how to prepare rellenong bangus in November. I cooked two of the stuffed milkfish as fulfillment of a promise that I had made to a friend that I would give him a relleno for Christmas, and made two, one for our Christmas eve dinner. Also, it made sense to prepare two because I couldn't guaranty that it would be perfect. And as it turned out yesterday, one of my rellenos sustained a break during frying and some of the stuffing spilled out. The second one, thank goodness, turned out perfect, and that's the one that I gave to my friend.

I have not cooked morcon in a long time, and I would consider it a big cop-out if I didn't cook one for this Christmas eve. On Saturday, we bought a pack of Kirkland brand beef flank steaks at COSTCO for about $6.75 a pound. The pack weighed approximately 2.72 pounds. For the ham, we bought a Farmer John's cooked ham (on sale at Ralphs for $1.79 a pound). It weighed, with the bone in, at about 6 pounds, plenty big for my family. So, it was a given that we would share some of the ham with friends.

So I will cut to the chase and describe how to make the ham first.


1 cooked ham (6 to 8 pounds)
1 large can of Dole or Del Monte pineapple juice
1 and 1/2 cups of brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons (approx.) of whole cloves


Prepare the ham by slicing off some of the skin around the base of the ham. Keep some of the fat on. Score the ham by slicing about 1/2 inch deep and making a checkerboard pattern throughout.

Place the cleaned ham in a large stockpot and pour the pineapple juice, and try to make sure that it covers the ham. Boil for 30 minutes. Do not overboil because the hams are already cooked. I make sure that the ham absorbs the pineapple by using a large cooking syringe and injecting pineapple juice into the ham after the boiling process.

Take the ham out of the pot into a large platter or dish, and begin inserting whole cloves in the crevices created when you made the shallow slices on the ham. Insert as many of the cloves as you can because it will impart its flavor on the ham.

Meanwhile, begin making the syrup by mixing 2 cups of the used pineapple juice and 1 and 1/2 cups of brown sugar and salt in a small saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until it reaches a honey-like consistency.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the ham in a deep pyrex or metal baking dish, pour a cup or two of pineapple juice, to prevent the ham from drying while baking. Allow 10 minutes baking per pound of ham.

During the last 10 to 15 minutes of baking, take it out from the oven and brush syrup all over it, then complete the baking process. You may want to cover the ham with a large sheet of aluminum foil to prevent it from getting burned. Take the baked ham out of the oven and place it on a large platter. It should be ready to slice as soon as possible. Use the rest of the syrup to add more of the pineapple flavor, when you serve the ham.

Morcon (beef rolls)


2 to 3 pounds of beef flank steaks
1 tablespoon of lemon or lime juice
1/3 cup of soy sauce
a dash of ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 medium size carrots, cut into thin strips
3 large pieces of sweet pickles, cut into thin strips
3 pieces of lean bacon, cut into thin strips
2 large hotdogs or wieners, cut into thin strips
1 large onion, quartered
1 large ripe tomato, quartered
1 medium size bay leaf
3 cups of water
2 tablespoons of cooking oil
2 hard-boiled eggs, quartered


Marinate the flank steaks in soy sauce, lemon or lime juice, salt, pepper and garlic for about 30 minutes (1 hour, if left in the fridge). On a large chopping block or a large dish, begin making the rolls by arranging strips of carrots, pickles, bacon, hard-boiled eggs, and hotdogs on the flank steak then rolling it around the ingredients. The result would be akin to a large beef sausage. With a ball of cotton string, secure the rolls by tying it all around with the string (as shown in the photos).

Brown the rolls in hot cooking oil, turning them around until all sides are browned. After browning, set the rolls aside. Pour the three cups of water in the pan where the rolls were browned, drop the onion and the tomato. Bring to a boil; add the rolls, and simmer for about 15 minutes.

Then put everything -- rolls, onion and tomato, bay leaf and stock -- in a large baking dish (as shown in photo), cover the dish with a sheet of aluminum foil and begin braising the rolls in the oven preheated to 350 degrees. The rolls will be completely cooked in 1 and 1/2 hours. Take out all the strings.

Serve by slicing into 1/8th-inch thick slices (as shown in photo). Serve with the stock that remained after braising.

Preparation and cooking time for ham: approx. two hours, and for the morcon, about two-and-a-half hours.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Which is Better, a Fresh-Cut, a Living, or an Artificial Christmas Tree?

There is an on-going debate between Americans who buy fresh-cut Christmas trees, those who nurture living trees (like moi), and those who prefer artificial trees. I am in the middle of this debate because I have a live tree that I have decorated recently. It is sitting on top of my computer desk festooned with a Santa's head on top and small-size ornaments all over. I used to belong to the first group, buying fresh-cut trees from the Christmas tree lot two weeks before the big day. But because of the progressively worsening economic condition, we stopped buying Douglas and Noble firs and other good-smelling trees when their prices hit the high thirties.

After we stopped buying fresh-cut trees, we purchased an artificial tree that had a real pine tree trunk and pine cones and artificial pine needles. I guess this tree would qualify as a hybrid. It is not a fresh-cut tree; but it is not a true artificial tree either. In the looks department, it could pass for a real pine tree -- from a distance; and in the scents department, it scores a big 0. The store in Van Nuys, California, where I bought this hybrid Christmas tree from, had suggested buying one of their cans of pine scent sprays. I thought acceding to that suggestion would be pushing the envelope way too far. So I said "no, thank you" to the sales associate.

According to an article published by TIME Magazine a couple of weeks ago, a sustainability firm, PE Americas, had found that owning an artificial tree -- like 50 million other American households -- resulted in lower carbon emissions in a decade, compared to buying a real tree for 10 years in a row because of the gasoline used to transport a cut tree from farm to the living room. The trade-off, however, is that the study was sponsored by the American Christmas Tree Association and focused on carbon emissions. That study seems to work in favor of the makers of artificial trees. But this is not altogether true because most artificial trees are made in China and shipped to all corners of the globe, and that involves usage of fossil fuel also.

Asserts Rick Dungey, NCTA communications director: "Even if you use a fake tree for 10 years, when you throw it away, it's not biodegradable. It's always better to use a natural product over an artificial one."

Adding fuel to the debate is the material used in making artificial trees: polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a type of plastic that's hard to recycle and poses a threat to children's health, according to Mike Schade, the PVC campaign coordinator for the activist group Center for Health, Environment and Justice. He claims that older plastic trees tend to contain higher levels of lead, a deadly neurotoxin.

At the other end of the debate, the greens are recommending buying a live tree with the root ball intact, keeping it alive through the Christmas season, and then finding a place to replant it. The last requirement goes against my ilk because, as an apartment dweller, I do not own the ground around my abode. Which explains why my living pine tree continues to thrive in a red plastic pot three years after we bought it from the Home Depot in Hollywood. What it is is a planter, taking in the sunlight outdoors eleven-and-a-half months of the year and serving its purpose as a decoration inside my apartment during the Christmas season.

According to the TIME article, there is a company in Portland, Oregon called Original Living Christmas Tree Co. that delivers potted trees for a rental. A few days after New Year's Day, its workers will pick up the living trees and deliver them to parks, schools and other institutions, whose owners are only too eager to fork over $10 for a tree to have them re-planted in their yards. Listen to John Fogel, founder of the company: "We're set to do over 400 trees this year. I want people to feel good about trees."

Even the Sierra Club has a take on the debate. "Kids are so out of touch with nature," offers Bob Schildgen, Sierra Club's environmental advice columnist. "Just having a living thing in the house can enhance environmental values in a way you can't measure in dollars and cents."

I feel good already. Happy Holidays to everyone who happen to stumble on this blogspot!