Steamed Pork with Black Beans

Let me just clear the air right now: I know how to ride a bike. I do.
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Two days ago I went on my first “out of the subdivision” biking trip. That means I braved the madness of cars during rush hour so I could go and bike/jog inside the airbase, where my mom’s office is. We don’t live far from the airbase but it was still a stretch to get there by walking. No, I do not live a sheltered life. It’s just that I haven’t really taken to driving myself wherever I want to go, just yet. So anyway getting there was easy enough. I managed to jog one round of the expanse, bike for another and afterwards I felt really happy (endorphins probably) that I managed to work up a sweat.

Now I was happy that I didn’t die or wasn’t run over by a truck. I biked all the way home and before I could go into our drive, a car was getting out. I obviously stopped and tried to wait for it to go. But I decided to just cut through the sidewalk to get in. Then the next thing I knew my bike and I were lying flat on the concrete. My big mistake was crossing over a wet sidewalk, because it was raining a bit. I could feel the stab of pain on my right knee and shoulder which hit the pavement first. And seriously, I heard the “awww” coming from the people who witnessed my sorry excuse for a fall. But I was laughing the whole time! And by that I meant I used humor to hide the humiliation. Which works by the way.

Now here I am still nursing a minor scrape on my knee. Good thing the shoulder wasn’t hurt badly, just a scrape here and there.

Looking back I think I rationalized the whole situation by saying it was meant to happen as my “rite of passage”. It was my first real injury from biking, and I’m ok with that. I got up, I laughed, and maybe I could use a day (or five) of not showing my face in public but it’s best to just shake it off and bike another day.

Miserably falling down your bicycle for people to watch and ogle at you is character formation at its finest. OK, maybe not. But you get the idea.

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Today I think I stumbed (pun intended) on another gold mine: steamed pork with black beans. I vaguely remember enjoying a dish quite similar in a Chinese resto along Nunez extension. The resto is long gone but if it had something remarkable, it was their steamed spareribs. So I perused and consolidated a few recipes online and managed to come up with something that I was pleased with.

Even if black beans are innately salty, the end product was really just subtle in its saltiness. At first I restrained myself from adding salt/soy sauce to the marinade. But I gave in to the need to make the taste pop even more. If it’s a battle between Maggi Savor Garlic flavor and Knorr liquid seasoning, I would prefer Knorr for the intensity, but for this recipe that calls for 3 teaspoons of liquid seasoning, I added 2 tsp of Maggi Savor and 1 tsp of Knorr.

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I was lucky enough to have large ramekins that are of the same height as the steaming attachment most rice cookers have. I like to steam food inside a solid heatproof container and not just with aluminium foil because of the tendency for water to pool. This is a really easy dish: chop the meat, make the marinade, mix, steam and that’s basically it. This is a winner. And maybe something that can help nurse your spirits after a miserable fall.

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Steamed Pork with Black Beans (serves 6)

  • 1 kg pork paikut/liempo/belly, sliced into bite sized cubes (paikut is different from belly/liempo. Help me translate paikut into its English name by clicking here or here)
  • 100 gram pack fermented black beans
  • 1 tbsp rice wine
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • two dashes of freshly cracked black pepper
  • 4 tbsp water
  • Optional: 3 tsp liquid seasoning/light soy sauce
  • Optional: 1 long chorizo bilbao, sliced
  1. In a bowl, mash the black beans with the back of spoon. It does not have to be a smooth mash.
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients except the pork and continue mixing, mashing until most of the the beans have roughly broken down.
  3. In a separate large bowl/container, combine the pork and the mashed bean paste. Allow to marinade in the refrigerator for at least an hour.
  4. When ready to cook, arrange the meat on a heatproof bowl/plate/container and put it in the steamer.
  5. Cover with aluminium foil and using a fork, prick the top to make small holes. Steam for 15 – 20 minutes covered. Then remove the foil and steam for another 15 – 20 minutes or until pork is no longer pink and is tender. Garnish with chopped chives, serve with a steaming bowl of rice and enjoy!

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Szechuan Eggplant

It was really Kylie Kwong who introduced me to szechuan/szechwan/sichuan cuisine through her television show. Well, it was really just one episode. I’m not sure how long ago that was, but it was before I saw her as a guest judge on Masterchef Australia.

Anyway, szechuan cuisine is know for simple dishes emboldened by adding chilies, garlic and other flavors that are a trademark of Chinese cuisine (thank you Wiki). The fact that Chinese condiments are readily available in groceries makes discovering this form of cuisine pretty straightforward. Where I come from, of all the different Asian techniques and flavors, Chinese is the most pervasive (hello there Chowking).

Kylie also made this during one of the Masterclass episodes in season 2. At that time I really didn’t have enough inspiration to make it. Then a few days ago, I saw an easy how-to video for the dish (from a newspaper website), and it looked delicious and easy enough to make. I think it was also during that time that I had tortang talong (eggplant omelet); something that I really enjoy eating but have yet to make.

So it seems the forces of nature have spoken.

With an appetite whet, I said to myself “Ok grasshopper, the time has come” *cue the gongs.

Szechuan Eggplant (serves 6 – 8 )

  • 6 medium sized eggplants, sliced crosswise in half then sliced lengthwise into fat sticks.
  • ¼ kg ground pork
  • Half a garlic head, minced
  • One 1 inch piece ginger, sliced
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch dissolved in ¼ cup water

Marinade:

  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • Freshly cracked pepper
  • Sauce:
  • 2 tbsp sesame oil
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp chilli garlic paste (Lee Kum Kee)
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • Optional: 1 tbsp rice wine
  1. In a bowl, combine the ingredients for the marinade and add the pork. Let stand in the refrigerator for at least 10 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, in a bowl combine the ingredients for the sauce.
  3. In a wok (big enough to hold the eggplants) heat enough sesame oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the ground pork mixture and cook until fat renders and meat is lightly browned.
  4. When cooked, remove from pan. Using the same pan and the oil, over medium heat, add the garlic and ginger and toast until fragrant.
  5.  Add the eggplants and stir – fry to cook until tender. About 3 – 5 minutes.
  6. Add the sauce, the pork and mix well. Add the cornstarch slurry and cook until thickened and eggplants are tender. Serve warm and enjoy!

Love (Sweet and Sour Pork)

My blog friend butterscratch shared something really nice (she got it from Medical Marzipan)

Love yourself. Love yourself unconditionally. Love yourself with everything you’ve got, every ounce of strength and courage that you can muster, because at the end of the day it’s just you, alone with your thoughts. Love yourself because you have suffered enough. Love yourself because you deserve every possible good thing that you are keeping out of your life when you’re deeply submerged in the muck of confusion and self-doubt.

Right now I think I’m stuck in a rut. Remind me to edit my ‘about me’ page, because a few months after I wrote that, here I am not a teacher anymore. I never studied to become a teacher in the first place. I’m a registered nurse who happens to enjoy English so much that my teacher asked me to teach while waiting for my nurse licensure exam results. When I was offered the job I thought it might be God giving me the career shift I needed because I never really liked the idea of being a nurse.

After a few months of trying to make it work, I realized that a teacher’s life (and salary) is not for me. Square 1 seems to follow me around all the time. Well, it’s been a few months since I graduated and passed the board exam. I’d like to end my 2011 as an unemployed soul trying to relish the rare moments of doing absolutely nothing. Nothing wrong with that at all.

Now 2012 would be a different story altogether. I don’t know what next year will hold for me and that scares me. I have been juggling a few possibilities – a career shift basically. But nothing is set in stone. I know, the rolling stone gathers no moss and all that shizz. I have to make things happen for myself. I’m tired of collecting adages. I’m tired of writing inspirational statements and resolutions that I never believe in.

Life is hard, but no one told me that part of the difficulty lies in the confusion of adulthood. The confusion of where to go next scares me. Please, somebody – tell me I’m not going crazy. Tell me that I just love myself too much.

-OK, end whining. I need to get my mojo back. Anyway, on to happier things:

This dish is something I’d eat over and over again. With lots of rice. You might think I’m stress eating, but that’s just me on a normal day. Sweet and sour pork is ubiquitous here in the Philippines. It’s innately Chinese, so we weren’t surprised when this was common “carinderia” (hole in the wall-ish) fare in Hong Kong. I was surprised that what I made did taste like Temple Street’s sweet and sour. It was comforting in a way. Like I said, eat this with lotsa rice. The pictures don’t do it justice. It’s that good. This is love.

Sweet and Sour Pork (serves 6)

1 kg pork belly or paikut, sliced into bite sized pieces

for the breading mix

  • 3/4 – 1 cup cornstarch
  • 1/2 – 1 tbsp salt
  • 1/2 tbsp freshly cracked pepper
  • 1 cup of oil/enough to cover the bottom of the pan

for the sweet and sour sauce

  • 3/4 cup ketchup
  • 3/4 cup sweet chili sauce
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 4 tbsp sesame oil
  • 4 tbsp vinegar
  • 4 tbsp brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp rice wine
  • 1 tsp hot sauce
  • 1 ginger slice
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • half a bulb of garlic, minced
  • red pepper flakes
  1. In a large bowl enough to hold the pork, mix the cornstarch, salt and pepper.
  2. Add the pork and mix well to coat the pieces evenly.
  3. In a large wok or pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add in the pork pieces, be careful not to overcrowd the pan and handle the pieces with care to avoid the oil splattering.
  4. Cook the pork on one side until breading is crispy and golden brown. Turn to the other side and fry until thoroughly cooked and crispy. Remove from pan and place in bowl/plate lined with paper towels. You may have to work in batches.
  5. To make the sauce: In a medium sized sauce pan, heat sesame oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and allow to toast, about 30 seconds. Add the onions and ginger. Cook until onions start to sweat and go limp. Add rest of the ingredients and adjust taste to your preference.
  6. Remove the excess oil from the pan used to cook the pork. Heat the pan again over medium heat and add the fried pork pieces. Add in the sweet and sour sauce and mix to incorporate the sauce well. Allow to simmer for about a minute and remove from heat. Top with chopped chives (optional). Serve with, once again, lotsa rice. Enjoy!

And let’s play a game of “name that pork cut!” (the appeal to help me out is still there)

The Alchemy of Siopao

Remember the bowl of flour a few posts back?

Well after a few hours of punching, pounding and yeast-ing (not a word), it became this amazing mound of soft dough filled with an equally amazing meat filling –  it became…….dun dun dun: SIOPAO.

Siopao/Baozi/Salapao/Steamed Buns are exactly that: slightly sweet (sometimes bland) buns made of flour, yeast, with no eggs, filled with a typical meat mix either “asado” (a meat mix) or “bola-bola” (a meatball). It’s definitely Asian, with countries having their own spin to it. But the principles and technique remain the same.

Now this is a big milestone for me because IT’S MY FIRST TIME TO HANDLE YEAST and KNEAD DOUGH! Now I can conquer the world! (cue the evil laugh).

But seriously, this was a half-day affair. Dough with yeast needs time to rise, and that’s basically the bulk of the preparation. Now, I’m actually going to chronicle my second attempt at siopao. It took me another attempt to get it right because the first batch we (dad and I) did didn’t really rise as much as these guys right here.

The process was amazing. I mean, it was a science experiment of sorts, since it involved a lot of components that played their part in making the dough rise. Yeast in itself is a chemical, so it’s not to be taken lightly in all its frothy, “imma rise this dough” glory. Yeah, I’m dramatic that way

I took pictures at each step to guide anyone who wants to make it at home. The process might seem intimidating, but there’s always youtube to help you knead dough. You need to have patience and time on your hands if and when you want to make this. The result is really really really worth it. The dough rose, and was still soft.

I made the asado filling by cooking the pork in water and adding asado powder from McCormick. Now don’t give up on me! I found that the result was still underwhelming, so I broke the ingredients of asado down and added more of the components: soy sauce, five spice powder, bay leaves and sugar. You can easily make the asado filling by clicking here, here or here.

So from one amateur to another: Do It. Make siopao!

Siopao (makes 12 – 16 siopao pieces)

adapted from Food Magazine’s step by step cookbook

  • 1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon white sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups lukewarm water
  • 3 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 3 1/2 to 3 3/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup shortening
  • wax paper square
  1. In a measuring cup or medium sized bowl, dissolve 1 tbsp of sugar in lukewarm water. Blend in the yeast. I stirred it, but not too much. Let stand of at least 10 minutes or until mixture becomes frothy.
  2. Meanwhile in a large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, salt and the 1/3 cup sugar. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and pour in the frothy yeast mixture. Add the shortening.
  3. With an electric (or stand) mixer with a dough hook, mix until soft dough forms. You can also use a wooden spoon.
  4. Turn out dough on a flat surface and knead until smooth and elastic. (tutorial here). Floured surface and hands are essential.
  5. Shape dough into a ball. Place in a greased bowl to prevent sticking. I used a pastry brush with shortening to grease the bowl. Cover the dough with a towel (not a hand or face towel; use something akin to a cotton shirt in texture). Let rise at room temperature for 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
  6. When the dough rises of doubles in volume, punch it in the middle with your first to release air.
  7. You can either flatten the dough on a flat surface or do what I did: shape the dough into a long roll about 20 inches and cut it into 12 – 16 equal portions.
  8. Flatten the dough. Then form the pieces into a ball.
  9. Flatten the balls again with your fingers. I flattened the discs to just about the diameter of my clenched fist. At this point I believed that flattening it aids to release the trapped air out of the dough because these it might cause the pre-steamed, formed siopao to poof down when agitated
  10. Place the dough on a flat surface and spoon filling in the middle of the flattened dough. Around 1 1/2 tablespoons.
  11. Close the dough by gathering the edges towards the center. Seal it by twisting it and lightly pinching the top. You can put it over the pre-cut waxed paper, sealed top pointing upwards (what we did) OR upside down, bottom up and the sealed part meeting the wax paper to prevent the seal from opening, according to my grandma. We didn’t do this and we might try it next time. 
  12. Let rise again for another 30 minutes or until dough doubles in volume. The dough will be softer after the second rising.
  13. Using a steamer, steam siopao over boiling water until dough becomes bigger and its color turns off-white, about 20 minutes. Makes 12 – 15 siopaos.

    Yeah we used three steamers simultaneously because we're hardcore like that

That’s basically it for the siopao! Now if you’re a fastfood condiment hoarder like my mom, you might have a lot of little ketchup sachets lying around so you can use that when eating the siopao or make an asado sauce or even eat it sans condiments. Whichever way, your patience will be rewarded with a heavy snack to keep you full the rest of the afternoon. That is, if you’re like me and you wolfed down siopao after siopao after siopao after siopao…

Chinese-style Fried Pork (and about puff pastry)

Throughout this process of bringing out the “chef” in me I get caught up with a few minor setbacks along the way.

I’ve been juggling with the terms “snooty”, “pretentious” and “vapid” a lot lately. Just a few hours ago, I was at this new cafe that sat on top of the deli store that my mom and I frequent. This cafe serves their iced tea along with goblets and no ice. I mean, come on, who drinks iced tea from a goblet? I think it’s…unnecessary. And pretentious.

Well, I’ve called myself a snoot on some occasions. Like this afternoon, when I was plating my dish for the camera. Food styling is my frustration. I look at all these food magazines and page after page of pure awesomeness makes me feel so inferior as an amateur photographer. Sometimes I subscribe to this idea that a great food photo has all the bells and whistles. And sometimes the end product kills me.

What I’ve learned from food styling so far is that a dish looks better if colors just pop. So adding a pop of color I did. I cut some red and green bell peppers into rings and at the end I decided to just put in a red one, to keep it subtle. It doesn’t translate well on camera. I was a bit disappointed. OK, I was really disappointed.

I can’t really believe myself but I actually called my plating vapid and soulless.

But there’s another styling tip that I take for granted. The best way to bring out a food’s soul in the photo (YES I AM THAT PASSIONATE ABOUT FOOD!!!!!) is to keep it simple.

Puff Pastry, I’ve learned, loses its light flakiness when it’s overworked. When you knead and mix it to the point of death, it’s not puff pastry any more. That’s a good principle I can live by. There’s a fine line between perfect and too much. I’m heavy handed when it comes to my cooking – I season a lot, I over mix, I over plate, I over think everything. Man, I need to loosen up and pull it back a little.

With that being said, there’s nothing vapid with the taste of what I did. It’s basically fried five spice pork belly. I’m not really over Chinese Five Spice because it takes me back to the days of Peking Duck and this really great stew I made. The meat was tender and the subtle taste and aroma of the five spice was there. I didn’t really have to try too hard with this dish. It’s Chinese-inspired because it uses cornstarch and egg as the breading. No flour.

And if ever there’s a desperate cook out there, I don’t want to be that person. I want to be the person that makes great puff pastry.

Five Spice Fried Pork Belly with Honey Soy Sauce (serves 4 – 6) – adapted from yummy.ph

  • 1 kg pork belly
  • 2 tsp five spice powder
  • 2 tbsp chopped garlic
  • 1 three-inch piece of ginger, grated finely.
  • 4 tbsp liquid seasoning (I used Knorr)
  • 4 tbsp gin
  • 2 tbsp sesame oil
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups cornstarch
  • oil for deep frying

Honey Soy Sauce

  • 1/2 bulb of garlic, chopped
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 5 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 4 tbsp honey
  • 1 1/2 tbsp cornstarch dissolved in 1/4 cup water
  1. Mix together pork belly and the rest of the seasonings. Marinate for at least two hours or overnight. When ready to cook, mix pork with beaten egg.
  2. Heat oil in a deep pan. Dredge pork in cornstarch and fry in hot oil. Drain on paper towels and keep warm.
  3. Make the sauce: Fry garlic in the oil until fragrant. Add the soy sauce, honey and the cornstarch slurry. Allow to reduce and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Serve meat with a steaming cup of rice and drizzled with sauce. Enjoy!