19 December 2008

Announcing: The Gastronomer's Bookshelf

The Gastronomer's Bookshelf (opens in new window)
Hi everyone! I'm proud to announce the launch of The Gastronomer's Bookshelf, a collaborative book review site about food, wine, and food culture. It's Duncan's (of Syrup and Tang) baby, which I got on board with as soon as I heard him pitch his ideas; we've been developing it over the last month or so. I don't have a lot of money to buy books with, but each time I visit the bookstore, I can't help but marvel at the amazing variety of cookbooks out these days. I could spend hours browsing them. Reviews really help me decide what to splurge on; unfortunately there's a lot of crap reviews out there, especially on retail sites ("1 star. Teh recipes are to hard. If your a pro then you might like it") and even newspapers. Blogs are a great resource but they tend to be diffuse and unless you're subscribed to plenty of blogs that occasionally review books, you're going to have to look for them all over-- you can't "browse" the books like you'd do on the shelves, so to speak. We hope that The Gastronomer's Bookshelf helps to solve that problem by providing helpful and informative reviews from real cooks that will help us determine if any of the titles out there are inevitable classics, or surprise gems.

If you already have a book (new, old, doesn't matter) you'd like to review in mind, please don't hesitate to submit one (or ten). You could even re-post an existing review and link back to your site from The Gastronomer's Bookshelf. We already have a few up from Duncan and moi (my very first one! It was fun!) and we can't wait to fill up the "shelf" with your recommendations (or anti-recommendations). But whether you decide to submit a review or not, I hope that you enjoy the site, subscribe to its news feed, and eventually use it as a resource and a place for healthy food-related book discussion. See ya there! ;)

If you have any questions or concerns, please don't hesitate to e-mail me at the address here, or through The Gastronomer's Bookshelf website.

18 December 2008

Chicken Pandan

Gai Hor Bai Toey
Chicken Pandan (with title)
This is my second entry to Darlene's Regional Recipes event, featuring Thailand. Except that the fantastic Thip just posted this days ago and she wrapped it better too, haha :P

During the day my pretty crappy neighborhood can get on my nerves. Even though the construction that made my ears bleed is done, every now and then the serenity will be broken by the impossibly loud honk of a truck's horn. Imagine that coming down not 4 meters from your window. Even without the vehicles, the children who live in the area (a squatters' area sadly) are horrible thugs in the making. In the afternoon they play dodgeball, which is fine-- kids should be able to play as much as they want especially during holiday. But these brats scream and yell at each other like lunatics. Having nine year-olds scream "(Pu)tang ina mo!" (literally "your mother is a whore" but the usage is more similar to "Fuck you!") at each other is quite jarring. When they combine forces, it's so tragic it becomes funny again:
(Kids play on the street, yelling obscenities at each other.)
Kid: (Tauntingly) HA HA, HINDI KAMI NAGULAT! (Ha ha, we weren't startled!)
Truck driver: UMALIS KAYO SA DAAN, SA SUSUNOD SASAGASAAN KO KAYO! (Get out of the road, next time I'll run you over!)
Kid: 'TANG INA MO! (Fuck you!)

They grow up so fast.

(The next few pictures were taken from my grandmother's house in Pampanga last All Saints' Day.)
Tubes (500px)
At night, all these harsh elements go away. Lovely Siberian winds have brought us a gentle chill (if you can call it that, o people of the frozen north), with temperatures of about 24°C (75°F) at night. I usually sleep with the electric fan on, but recently I've wanted to feel the cool temperature on my skin without any help. Even though the electric fan has a barely noticeable whirring sound, the quiet that resulted was a sweet surprise. Nothing but the crickets. Amusingly, when I was a boy I thought that it was the sound the moon makes.
Flowers for my grandfather
Bicycle (500px)
What I think is my grandfather's old bike (it certainly is aged and beautiful, like he was). The tracks on the side were from rain falling from the scalloped roof edge.
It reminded me of those times in my childhood when we spent the evening at my grandparents' one hour North (in Pampanga). Some rooms had no electrical outlets or fluorescent lamps, and we slept on mats on the floor, in pitch darkness and with the sound of frogs and crickets outside our lullaby. I hated those nights; I longed for my light and my television. However, during my recent quiet nights, my memory only associated my sleepovers with a feeling of calm. And now that the year is ending, as always, reflection.
Board and Paddle (500px)
My grandmother's tools: a chopping board and a paddle (for washing clothes).
Kangkong Pond
Overgrowth of kangkong (water spinach) at my grandparents' pond
Though there were many joys and triumphs this year, it had its share of tragedy as well. But after the dust settles, I can't deny that life has been very kind to me. I'm so looking forward to the opportunity to start giving back to the world again as a working physician.
Jackfruit tree (500px)
Jackfruit tree
Bamboo seat
Seat from my grandparents' siesta hut, made of bamboo (and nails).
Passion flower
My favorite non-food photo I took this year, of a Passion flower I just happened to find near the water pump. Probably the first time the beauty of the shot matched the beauty of what I saw with my eyes.
This year I also got to meet a lot of new blogging friends, and a lot of new places to enjoy on the web. Thanks so much for your support-- I thoroughly enjoy your company and your food, even if I can only taste it through the monitor! Even though by mid next-year I'll be posting a lot less due to work (crossing fingers!), I hope you'll still continue visiting. I'll make it a point to still visit you guys each time I get a chance. But that won't be for a while, so let's enjoy ourselves for now :)
Chicken Pandan (more)
Gai Hor Bai Toey
This is one of the first Thai dishes I ever tasted, and it still is one of my favorites. Quite kid-friendly too, and though I am not a fan of cilantro and the aroma is quite strong as it marinates, the end-result is very pleasantly flavored and not offensive at all. There are plenty of recipes out there (here's Syrie's quick and delicious version, which was the one I adapted): this is a hybrid of all the versions I saw, though a little simpler on the ingredient-aspect (no coconut milk). I encourage you to add whatever you feel may be good-- I particularly liked Thip's addition of red chili powder-- wish I had thought of it.

  • 500g (1 lb) chicken thigh fillets (I used skin-on, just a preference)

  • about ten stems of cilantro (coriander), roughly chopped

  • 5 cloves garlic

  • 1 teaspoon white pepper

  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar

  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 3 tablespoons oyster sauce

  • 1 tablespoon of sesame oil

  • vegetable oil for frying

  • 20 fresh pandan (fragrant screwpine) leaves, cleaned

Cut each fillet into 2 or 3 pieces, each about 2-3 inches. Mash together the cilantro, garlic, white pepper, brown sugar, cornstarch and salt (alternatively you could blend/process it all with the oyster sauce and sesame oil). Add the oyster sauce and sesame oil if you haven't already. Coat the thighs in the marinade, cover, and leave in the fridge overnight. The following day, wipe the marinade off each chicken piece with your hands (just to make sure there aren't any big pieces of cilantro or garlic sticking to it) and wrap each with a long pandan leaf (sorry I can't diagram these; as you can see I didn't do a good job of it-- a skewer helps to keep it in place). Place in a steamer for 5-7 minutes, then fry until golden brown all over, about 3 minutes each side. Serve with sweet chili sauce on the side.

13 December 2008

Fish with Red Curry Sauce

Pla Phad Phrik Khing
Fish with Red Curry Sauce
This is my entry to Darlene's Regional Recipes event, this month hosted by Darlene herself, featuring Thailand. Check Blazing Hot Wok on the 20th for the round-up-- and I'll have another Thai recipe up before then. W00t! Also, you might like to read a short article I wrote about my biggest food-related Christmas wishes over at Table for Three, Please.

Again over the past 2 days I've been neglecting visiting my favorite blogs, because of a nagging headache from lack of sleep (to be remedied in... 8 hours ;). Since I got the news that I passed my Step 2 CS exam, my impending trip to the East coast has become more tangible. Of course, I'd booked that January 1 (gulp) flight weeks ago, but there was always that uncertainty, the fear that I might have flushed a lot of my parents' money down the drain if I failed the exam. Thankfully, that isn't the case and now I have to worry about my interviews and how I'm going to spend my days in a very, very, very cold country (it's 80°F-- 26°C here, at night) without valuable parts of my body falling off. At the same time I'm wondering what the hell makes scarves so expensive ($30 on average here), and if it's a bad sign that the super-cute 2-pack of skull and crossbones beanies/skullcaps I found at Debenham's fit me well, even though they're for boys age seven (didn't buy them yet-- looking for a hat that makes my head look... Bigger, apparently).

My home base during that time will be Middlesex, New Jersey, and leave it to me to try to find a way to make the suburbs verrrry interesting (will it be MORE fun than El Segundo?). So far my interviews are in:

  1. Akron, Ohio (staying January 11-13) BRRR!!!

  2. New York (The Bronx), New York (January 16)

  3. Chicago, Illinois (staying January 21-24)

  4. Reading, Pennsylvania (staying January 25-26).

Hopefully there will be more interviews aside from those. I'm pretty pumped about the places I'm going to (would I be Manggy if I wasn't?), but it would do wonders for my confidence now if I felt... I dunno, wanted by more hospitals. But no matter what happens, I'll do my best and enjoy myself as best as I can, and of course you guys will once more be subject to WAY too many pictures! (Hopefully none of me getting slammed into a pile of garbage. New York fascinates and frightens me. By the way, that is a reference to 30 Rock Season 1, episode 20: "Cleveland." I won't spoil it. Watch it. Damn Youtube removed that clip I love so much.)

Sooo... As a substitute, we have Kylie. No reason.

As for meeting bloggers-- I'd love to, but it's freaky to invite myself to things. The main reasons why I had the moxie to ask Todd and Diane and Marvin to meet with me in El Segundo was because Todd and Diane had invited me to a party long before, and a mutual friend assured me Marvin would love to meet me (plus, he's kind of a homeboy, so...). And even then I was deathly afraid of letting them down. Hopefully in a few days I'll get everything straightened out. For sure I'll want to see Ann (and I'm pretttty sure she'll want to see me. I hope). I won't cause any more undue pressure by naming names, but you'll know if it worked out... When I post the pictures :)

Oh, and why aren't there any West coast hospitals? Believe me, I checked. The specific recruitment policies make it very difficult for non-residents of the United States to even think of applying.

This is also my contribution to Maryann and Joe's Seven Fishes Feast blog event! Contribute a fish/shellfish dish by the 19th and you might win a wonderful basket of goodies!

Pla Phad Phrik Khing adapted from The Celadon Restaurant at the Sukhothai Hotel, Bangkok (Gourmet February 2004)
This is an extremely easy recipe from one of the high-end restaurants of Bangkok. I'm not sure if it's a function of the brand of red curry paste I used, but I found the end result a tad salty (my dad gave it two thumbs up, though). Since the sauce requires only the barest minimum of cooking after seasoning, you're definitely free to adjust the amount of either dried shrimp or fish sauce without fear of wrecking the whole dish, and it'll be perfect. Oh-- and this is quite spicy. Juz the way I like.
  • 2 tablespoons dried shrimp

  • About 4 cups vegetable oil (I used about one... come on)

  • 2 tablespoons Thai red curry paste (preferably Mae Ploy brand)

  • 1 14-oz (397mL) can unsweetened coconut milk at room temperature, stirred well (I used one 50g packet of coconut milk powder dissolved in 400mL hot water)

  • 1-1/2 teaspoons Asian fish sauce

  • 2 teaspoons sugar

  • 1-1/2 lb (1kg) skinless snapper fillets, cut into 2-inch pieces

  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

  • 1/4 cup Asian rice flour (not sweet-- I used cornstarch)

  • About 10 Chinese long beans (snake beans or string beans) or 4oz (120g) green beans, cut into 2-inch pieces

Grind dried shrimp in an electric coffee or spice grinder until fluffy, about 1 minute. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat until hot but not smoking, then cook curry paste, stirring constantly, 30 seconds. Add coconut milk gradually, whisking until smooth, then add fish sauce and sugar and cook, stirring, until sugar is dissolved. Stir in ground shrimp, then remove from heat and keep covered.

Heat 1 inch oil in a 2- to 3-quart saucepan until it registers 375°F (190°C) on thermometer (eh, I wasn't that exact, for once). Pat fish dry and sprinkle with salt. Dredge in rice flour, shaking off excess, and arrange in 1 layer on a plate.

Cook beans in oil 30 seconds and transfer to paper towels to drain. Return oil to 375°F (190°C) and fry fish in 2 batches, turning, until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes per batch. Transfer fish to fresh paper towels to drain. Bring curry sauce to a simmer, then add fish and cook, turning fish gently to coat with sauce, about 1 minute.

Serve fish curry with long beans scattered on top. For styling purposes, I reserved a few drained fillets to place on top and drizzled some of the remaining curry sauce over.

07 December 2008

Portuguese Custard Tarts

Pastéis de Nata
Pastéis de Nata (with title)
Sorry if I've been away for a while (yes, 3 days is a while in our world, isn't it?). Last Saturday I got a massive headache from fatigue which was a sure sign that I'm on the edge of illness so I took it easy the next day. The good news is that it worked.
Pastéis de Nata (cut)
Now, what was I sick about? Oh, yeah, I went from mall to mall and virtually spent the remainder of the time in a car. I obviously love to shop but I like to do it at a leisurely pace, at only one place, and in a relatively quieter area. But of course, you won't get any of that these days, as there's only 2 weeks till Christmas. I'm all for the spirit of Christmas-- giving, sharing, spending time with family, being thankful for my blessings-- but not this mad rush. And it's not just about the materialism. Even when I look at the offerings they have on the shelves, it's one of three things-- expensive, ugly, or uninspired. Here's an excerpt of an e-mail I wrote to a friend of mine:

I suppose I would enjoy shopping more (and really, I normally do) if I had money to buy gifts for my family. Everything seems either expensive or ugly. Nothing is calling to me, inspiring me to buy it because the recipient would really like it. Everything seems rushed, fake, ordinary, unnecessary. I swear, I'm going to shove wads of money into envelopes and give them away on Christmas.

Pastéis de Nata (top)
And here is my friend's (partial) reply to that:
Your expensive/ugly/uninspiring gifts thing finds resonance here. I hate how the shelves are suddenly laden with all the trash that nobody would buy as gifts under normal circumstances (here he proceeds to name a few hilarious things which I WON'T share with you because it's too mean/might hit a nerve). And people will buy them and give them without a flicker of concern that the gift was a duty.

It'll be my birthday in two days (the not-so-big 2-7). I remember when I was very young (in "Prep", the grade level between Kindergarten and First Grade-- dunno what the system is now), I made the "mistake" of telling my teacher that it was my birthday (shouldn't she have known?). She gave me these tiny horse figurines (at least two of which I still have here). When I'd told my parents about it, they very gently told me not to go around telling people it's my birthday next time, because they'd feel like I was asking for loot.

The truth is, I think I've come to a point where I don't get too excited about my birthday or Christmas, at least not for the gifts. I feel incredibly lucky to have the blessings that I do on a daily basis, and content with whatever I have. Gifts are pleasant surprises-- extras. I feel like I annoy plenty of people (parents included) when I'm asked what I'd like as a gift, and I say "nothing, it's okay." Because it is okay. And I annoy even more people when I receive gifts like it's the most fantastic thing that's ever happened to me and I end up embarrassing them by gushing too much. But friendship and love? That's enough. Maybe that's more precisely what I'm excited about.
Deeba's Gifts
On that note, I'd like to gush like a fool for the gifts my dearest Deeba sent me all the way from Gurgaon-- SPICES, baby! It was a very fragrant day when DHL stopped by my front door and gave me a bag full of lovely things: saffron (ooooh), garam masala, darjeeling tea, raita mix, and special cloves. (No, "special" isn't code for anything, you naughty things!) From the bottom of my heart, thank you (embarrassing you yet?), and may your days be filled with passion-- for baking!
Pastéis de Nata (burned)
Burned, baby, burned!

Pastéis de Nata
Warning: if these aren't one of your favorite things already, be prepared to add it to the list... I essentially followed Duncan's excellent recipe here almost to the letter, with a few adjustments:
  1. Since I wanted to replicate the pasteleria experience and used disposable (yeah right) foil pie pans (actually I think they're really baked in individual pans and sold naked) that measured 11cm diameter x 2cm high (4-1/4" x 3/4"), I baked them for only 6 minutes.

  2. My oven does too good a job at broiling and warps my precious baking sheets. I instead used a turbo broiler. Mine could only reach 250°C (480°F) but it's a convection cooker, and probably the best way I have at home to achieve the delightful brown spots you usually find on top. I only achieved it partially, but I didn't want to curdle the custard or burn the pastry, so I stopped short of that.

  3. I used my thumbs to squish the pastry into the form as thin as I could, getting it almost to the rim.

  4. I used ready-made puff pastry since it's not really possible to make it in this climate. I used a single 24cm (9.5") square. However, it was only about 2mm (between 1/16 and 1/8 inch) thick, so I cut it into two rectangles and stacked them on top of each other (forming a single 12x24cm rectangular stack) and rolled it up as per the instructions. I was able to make five tarts this way.

  5. You'll notice it doesn't rise quite as well. My puff pastry is more than a year old, ha ha ha! Tasted great though :P

  6. The custard in Duncan's recipe is good for 10 tarts if using my pan size.

  7. I tried using a blowtorch (yeah, baby) to create the dark areas but I ended up making a charred, rough surface. Tasted the same but I wouldn't do it again: my intended result was a shimmering surface, with the char appearing to come from under the sheen. Obviously the flame of a blowtorch is too harsh to accomplish this.

Oh, PS (if you're still reading), I passed the Step 2 CS exam (what I went to El Segundo for). Residency interviews, here I come!