Filipino-style Spaghetti

Filipinos love their spaghetti sweet. That kind of preparation is as “pinoy” as adobo. Growing up, I would watch in awe as grandma would take out her large wok, and arrange the ingredients for the spaghetti on the table: lots of tomato sauce, ground pork or beef, hotdogs (it had to be Tender Juicy!) and the condensed milk. Yes, our household believes that the key to a great sweet spaghetti lies in the condensed milk. Let’s not forget the cheese. Lots of it. I actually thought that spaghetti is always prepared this way. Jollibee underscored it even more. But then as time and experience chipped a few notions away, I began to appreciate just how diverse pasta could be.

Lately my birthdays would always mean that paella would be the center of attention (aside from myself.ha!). But a younger me would be happy to see two or three pyrex dishes filled with spaghetti, generously topped with cheese. Even if pasta comes in various shapes, presentations and flavors…sweet spaghetti hits the spot because it tugs at the heartstrings.
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Just this afternoon, after my routine of taking a few photographs of the dish I made, I sat on the floor with a plate of my version of the good stuff grandma makes. There was something missing – the cheese perhaps. But that didn’t matter when I finished all of it. And the package of pasta says it was supposed to serve four. Let’s just pretend I’m not aware of that tiny detail.

It’s sweet, it’s savory, it’s a little fragment of home….it’s the spaghetti we all know and love.
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Filipino Style Spaghetti (serves 3 – 4)

The name alone couldn’t contain just how diverse the ingredients and methods Pinoys employ to make their sweet spaghetti. Just because it’s supposed to be sweet doesn’t mean you should go overboard. It has to have the balance of sweet and savory. I used smoked longganisa instead of ground pork, and coconut sugar as a “friendlier” sweetener.

  • half a bulb of garlic, minced
  • 1 medium-sized white onion, sliced
  • 175 grams pasta noodles, cooked according to package instructions
  • 1/4 cup salty, starchy water used to cook the pasta
  • 250 grams tomato sauce
  • 142 grams vienna sausage (I use Libby’s), drained and sliced
  • 411 grams canned diced tomatoes, with the liquid reserved.
  • 5 – 7 pieces sweet longganisa, sliced into bite sized pieces.
  • 3 – 5 tablespoons coconut sugar (or use brown sugar)
  • dried thyme, salt and pepper to taste
  1. In a pan, heat oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and onions and saute until onions start to sweat and garlic is fragrant.
  2. Add the longganisa and cook until the fat renders and it is starting to brown.
  3. Add the diced tomatoes together with the liquid. Add the tomato sauce and simmer until the sauce has reduced and has thickened. Add the vienna sausage.
  4. Mix in the sugar, season with salt, pepper and thyme.
  5. When the sauce has reduced, add the starchy water and raise the heat to high. Add in the pasta and mix well. Serve immediately and top with grated cheese (optional)
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Longganisa and Atsuete Sinangag (Fried Rice)

The weather has been unforgiving, and I learned that the hard way. I woke up with my throat sore and head throbbing. The body malaise flushed any intention to make the day productive, down the drain. Flashbacks of moments where I let myself be bombarded by the weather without any form of defense kept nagging at me. Now I understand the beauty of a hoodie, or at least an umbrella. It’s strange how being sick lets you sink deep into a pit of self-pity – how I’m alone and I need to take care of my defenseless self. That’s just me being a (bleep) of course.

I went to the McCormick event probably still under the weather. I might as well be patient zero. Did me going home with free bread spread make me feel any better? Not really, but I did feel good after finally cooking something worth posting about. And yes Virginia, I used the garlic bread spread on something that isn’t bread!

There was a pack of longganisa sitting in the freezer, and I was raring to try it out. It wasn’t just any longganisa – the label says it’s ‘alaminos longganisa’ which means it’s hopefully a regional specialty of Pangasinan, one of the many provinces in the Philippines.
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I was probably going in blind: I didn’t know what it tasted like, and what effect it will have on the rice. So after patiently mixing everything together, I was eager to finally taste the finished product and, well, it was delicious, delicious, delicious. And I’m not just saying that because of my affinity for unreasonably large servings of rice. It was delicious.

I call it longganisa and atsuete fried rice (sinangag in Filipino) because these two components are primarily responsible for imparting the delicious flavor and color to the rice. It’s a no-brainer and well, I’m not creative with names.
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If ‘alaminos longganisa’ is too obscure for you, if you know of a variant that is more deliciously sour than sweet, then use that. And I’ve recently found out that atsuete or annatto can also be sold in powder form! No joke. Then that means it’ll be easier for you to make the atsuete oil by just heating the oil, adding the powder and let the color bleed out. You don’t have to remove the seeds anymore because there are none!
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By all means, use the bread spread to add another dimension of flavor to the dish. I can vouch for the garlic variant by saying that it does wonders to fried rice. Sure, it might be counterintuitive with being an advocate of the slow food movement, but well, heck, I won’t apologize.
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Longganisa and Atsuete Fried Rice (Serves 3 – 4)

  • 4 ½ cups day old rice
  • 6 – 8 pieces alaminos longganisa, casings removed and crumbled (if unavailable: just use regular longganisa and just sauté the rice in atsuete/annatto oil)
  • 1 carrot, sliced into small cubes
  • 4 pieces sitaw/string beans, stalk ends trimmed, sliced into 1-inch pieces
  • 3 tablespoons cooking oil (or atsuete oil if using regular longganisa)
  • 3 tablespoons McCormick Bread Spread (garlic flavor)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  1. In a pan/pot large enough to hold the rice, place the crumbled longganisa with enough water to cover the bottom of the pan.
  2. Cook over medium heat, until the water boils and has reduced. At this point, add the carrots and the string beans. Cook until beans are tender and water has evaporated.
  3. Add oil/atsuete oil to sauté everything together. Add the garlic Bread Spread and mix well.
  4. Add the rice, fry and mix well. When done, remove from pan and serve warm. Enjoy!

And just to give you a quick glimpse of how I’m running things lately, this is my makeshift studio:
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Yes, that’s my bed frame, and a few linens I bought at The Landmark (on sale, of course), and that blue thing on the side is my mattress that I had to remove. How’s that for going the extra mile?

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Spreading some goodness with McCormick

I love herbs. In fact, I have an herb garden growing a thousand miles away back home. I just hope that as of writing this, they haven’t died yet. Fingers crossed that my instructions haven’t fallen on deaf ears.

Before I dove into the practice of using fresh herbs, McCormick has always provided me with a good supply of dried ones to use in everyday cooking. My go-to selection would have to be basil, rosemary, paprika and thyme. It’s amazing that this company can do so much to introduce the world to a variety of flavors neatly packed with convenience, made available in your everyday go-to supermarket at reasonable prices. This time, they take it a notch higher by introducing their new line of…….wait for it…….SUNSCREEN LOTIONS.

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spf 30 anyone?

I kid. McCormick, please forgive me, I just had to say it. But seriously though, who would’ve thought sandwich spreads could taste even better? Apparently they did. And here they are with their new line of Bread Spreads, which were launched at Fully Booked Top Shelf to a crowd of bloggers and media representatives.
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rosemary lemonade (!)

Every table was provided with a generous serving of breads and crackers, together with the three Bread Spread variants: Pesto, Herb Parmesan and Garlic.
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On bread, herb parmesan and pesto work best. Both have natural textures in the spread: parmesan and basil bits, respectively. The garlic wasn’t bad, on the contrary, it does taste pretty darn good, but we were impressed with the first two more.
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Even if I was not impressed with the garlic on bread, I can imagine the garlic to work with meals like barbecue, fish and chips, even tempura-style vegetables. And just to prove how versatile these spreads can be, McCormick also invited Chef Stephanie Zubiri to demonstrate three dishes flavored with the bread spread line. Even if these 75-gram 0-trans fat squeeze bottles are geared particularly as an in-between for sandwiches, they can do wonders to flavor other dishes as well – think pasta, stuffed chicken breast, and naturally, salads!
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Chef Stephanie Zubiri with host Patricia Hizon

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Clockwise from right: Garlic Herb Lemon Zest Carbonara, Grilled Stuffed Chicken Breast with Roasted Veggie Millefeuille and Pesto Orange Salad with Balsamic Dressing

After the demo, a few lucky members of the audience were also treated to two games. The first one was a 20-minute team challenge to whip up three dishes using the spreads. The next one was easier – a sandwich tasting game where you had to guess what bread spread was used. All in all, people had a jolly good time.

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Personally I’m excited to see how far I can stretch the Bread Spread’s versatility. You get the convenience of not having to worry about digging deep into a jar just to get most of the spread, the versatility of having another flavoring element in your mix of ingredient arsenals, and of course, the great flavor that the brand always promises.

McCormick Bread Spreads are now available nationwide and priced at 75php per tube.

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An Easier Boeuf Bourguignon

There’s this really amazing food blog that constantly fills my google reader with almost daily posts – Ang Sarap. That in itself is a feat because the voice behind it, Raymund, a fellow Filipino residing in New Zealand, is a working man whereas yours truly is currently bumming around (that’ll all change SOON) and I can’t even muster up the gumption to post frequently lately. His blog is filled with recipes I wouldn’t mind trying every single day, so early on I was sold.

Ang Sarap is currently hosting guest posts from food bloggers all around the world, and I’ve been fortunate enough to be part of that tight circle. My guest post is currently up on his site, so you might want to check it out.
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Before I left for Manila I made Boeuf Bourguignon for a cozy dinner among friends. A few hours prior, I was staring in front of the black hole that is my pantry, trying to figure out what to cook. I’ve been known to hoard ingredients that I don’t get to use often. So sifting through everything was a challenge. Making a simplified version of Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon was always at the back of my mind. The last time I made it was for Christmas lunch, which was a hit with the family.

This time, I stripped it down until I was left with the core ingredients of beef and wine, and whatever remotely related to bourguignon was left in the fridge and pantry found its way into the pan.
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(excerpt from the guest post)

But is what I made still Boeuf Bourguignon? I implore you to never second-guess this dish! Bourguignon or not, it’s still something incredibly special.

This still requires a few hours in the oven to cook, BUT if you ask me, I think cooking this in a pressure cooker for an hour would do the trick. I would do that eventually once I get my hands on a pressure cooker. Sometimes what we would do at home is to pressure cook the raw beef then place it in a container and just leave it in the fridge. When we need it for quick soups or stews, then it’s good to go!

I stumbled on a goldmine when I dotted the dish with butter before I placed it in the oven. Your kitchen will thank you. For a servant-less Filipino cook like me, this might as well be godsend. 

I wish I could make this dish soon but the tiny kitchen I have right now is making it a challenge. I’m still in the process of easing myself into this new lifestyle in the big city so you might notice that it’s been quiet here at THG lately. But because Manila’s food culture is amazing, you might see more of what I ate than what I cooked.

But for now, with a spoonful of nostalgia and homesickness, here it is….Boeuf Bourguignon 2.0
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An Easier Boeuf Bourguignon (serves 3 – 4)

  • 500 grams beef rib eye
  • 115 grams canned whole or sliced button mushroom
  • 1 large white onion, chopped
  • 1 beef broth cube dissolved in 1 ½ cup hot water
  • ¾ cup red wine (use wine that you would drink)
  • 6 bacon strips, roughly chopped
  • ½ tablespoon dried thyme
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3 teaspoons all purpose flour
  • Small cubes of butter

In a large nonstick pan, heat olive oil over medium heat then add the bacon. Fry until fat renders. Remove the bacon and set aside. Pat the beef dry with paper towels. Season one side with salt and pepper. Using tongs, place the rib eye on the pan, seasoned side down. Season with salt and pepper the side facing up. Cook both sides until it starts to brown. Remove from pan and set aside. In the same pan, sauté the onions until limp. Add the mushrooms and sauté for 30 more seconds. Using the spatula, nudge the onions and mushrooms to the sides of the pan, and then add back the beef and the bacon. Add the beef broth water and the wine. Season with thyme, salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle in the flour and gently mix everything together.

Preheat the oven to 200C. Place the pan in the oven and allow to cook for 2 – 3 hours or until beef is tender. Remove from the oven and adjust the taste to your preference. Serve warm with rice or buttered toast and enjoy!

Breakfast: Homemade Tocino

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Lately, my breakfasts were served to me in little boxes full of rice, microwaved and with a tall glass of pineapple juice, courtesy of our friendly neighborhood 7-Eleven.

It’s been a few days since I left my home and currently, I’m writing this in our 39 square meter unit that I share with two of my friends. I’m in Manila now, trying to slug it out and chase whatever it is my hometown can’t give me. I actually have a post that reads like a novela in the works, but no, now is not the time for that. I need to make room for breakfast, and for tocino, which has been sitting at the back of my head for a while now.
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Growing up my mom would make tocino from scratch.  I gather that in some parts of the world, tocino means ‘bacon’ (another one of my favorites, hence my waistline). Tocino in the Philippines is cured pork or chicken slices and it literally spells a quintessential Pinoy breakfast (together with longganisa, beef tapa, danggit). Thin strips of pork are cured with a mixture of salt, sugar, saltpeter (sodium nitrate) or prague powder, and rice wine or gin. The salt to sugar ratio is important, because you can easily tip the scale between salty and sweet – flavors that a tocino must be must have in perfect harmony (Mom takes it very seriously!).

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the folded paper is the actual recipe that my mom kept for 20+ years!

Tocino sold in the supermarkets in the frozen section is more processed than usual, and I don’t really care for it. This recipe is so much better because at least I know how much salt and preservatives are in it which doesn’t make it more healthful but at least sinking my teeth into every sweet and salty morsel is more of a psychological treat (haha!).

I think it may be a while before I get my bearings and adjust to my even tinier kitchen, so I might as well fill this blog with more of what I do get to taste in the Metro. But for now, when I’m thinking of home and of uncomplicated breakfasts, this sits at the top of my list (together with another favorite, my bacon and egg rings).
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Tocino (serves 6 – 8)

  • 1 kg skinless boneless pork
  • Curing mix:
  • 1 ½ tablespoons iodized salt
  • 5 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon gin/rice wine
  • ¼ tablespoon prague powder
  • A dash of MSG

In a bowl, combine all the ingredients for the curing mix. Evenly coat the pork slices with the curing mix then transfer it to a larger bowl, large enough to hold the pork. Let it sit in the refrigerator for at least one – two days before cooking.

When ready to cook, arrange the number of pork pieces you need in a pan and add water enough to cover the bottom. Cook it over medium heat, until the water evaporates and the tocino’s fat begins to render. Add a tablespoon or two of oil and fry until both sides take on a reddish hue and begin to brown. The pieces may burn easily so be careful. When done, remove from pan, serve with rice and an egg fried sunny side up. Enjoy!

Honey Chicken

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My eating habits scare me sometimes. Sometimes. I was too full for lunch at 12 because I ate breakfast at 10. Then at around 2pm, I thought I was glued to the bed watching NCIS reruns, but no, I craved for honey chicken. I just had to press the pause button.

Truth be told I just went with my gut on this one. There was no recipe, just inspiration from a few odds and ends, particularly the vivid taste of Lotus restaurant’s iconic honey chicken masterpiece, and the sauce I made a while back for the fried pork cutlets. And the end result was devoured in record time, even by my grandmother who, today, also told me that she tried my macaroni and cheese and thought it was “walang kwenta” (worthless). But hey, don’t take her word for it!!! The rest of my family defended me of course, so it’s probably just grandma’s isolated and skewed opinion (but don’t worry I still love her to bits).

The only thing I wished I could have done was to make some more because it was the first thing gone from the table during dinner. Yeah, they really liked it.
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Honey chicken (serves 4)

  • 1.5 kg chicken legs and thighs
  • 6 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
  • Half a head of garlic, minced
  • 1 240ml can pineapple juice
  • 5 teaspoons cornstarch, dissolved in 1 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 3 tablespoons white cane vinegar (apple cider vinegar works too)
  • A dash of cinnamon
  • 2 pieces star anise
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • ½ cup honey (or more, to taste)
  1. Heat 3 tablespoons vegetable oil in a nonstick pan over medium heat. Sear the chicken on both sides, until it begins to brown, around 5 – 10 minutes on each side. You might need to do this in batches.
  2. Make the sauce: Heat the remaining 3 tablespoons oil in a large sauce pan (large enough to hold the chicken pieces as well) over medium heat. Add the minced garlic and allow to fry until fragrant but not burnt. Add the pineapple juice and the cornstarch mixture. Mix well.
  3. Add the rest of the sauce ingredients and stir everything together over medium heat until the sauce thickens. Adjust the seasoning to your preference.
  4. Lower the heat and add in the chicken and cook, covered, for 30 – 45 minutes or until chicken is cooked tender.
  5. In the last 5 minutes of cooking, increase the heat to high and cook until the sauce has reduced, thickened and is slightly sticky. Frequently stir everything together to stop it from burning. When done remove from heat and serve warm. Enjoy!

Fried Bananas/Prito Saging

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Sometimes when I’d hop on over to the kitchen next door, at my grandparent’s house, I’d see a bunch of bananas on the table, and I know it could become one of two things: sareala or prito saging. Sareala is bananas stewed in coconut milk and muscovado sugar, while prito/frito saging literally means fried bananas. Today was all about the fried bananas.

They make a great all-day snack that’s really simple to prepare and really really addictive. I asked them what’s the banana that’s ideal for frying, they usual say, ‘Gardava‘, and would be quick to add, ‘not Saba‘. But it is peculiar to know that when you google ‘Saba Banana’, top sites would tell you that the Saba banana is also called ‘Cardaba’. Yes, it’s confusing. Photos of the Saba banana would show you a banana that is slightly angular, almost square-ish, and I can swear that the bananas used didn’t resemble the photo. Now as I’m typing this I realize how much of a dufus I am because I didn’t even think of photographing the banana in question. Nice one, Gio.

Anyway, don’t fret. If you’re lucky enough to have an abundance of fruit stands around your neighborhood, I’m sure the people manning it can help you out. But if the varieties are scarce, it’s reasonable to experiment. Who knows? You might stumble into your own little gold mine (of fried golden bananas).
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Some recipes (and mothers, grandmothers, aunts) tell you to coat the bananas in flour, while some say just dump it in the hot oil right away. If the bananas are overripe and mushy, then it should be coated with flour to help preserve the structure. But if the bananas have peaked and ripened perfectly, then dump it in sans the flour. You’d want this kind of fried banana more – well, I would. They don’t mush too much even when they’re already golden brown. Sinking your teeth into it is a treat because if it’s perfectly cooked, then it’s going to melt in your mouth.

And slathering each piece with butter and sugar? Don’t get me started.
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Prito Saging (serves 6 – 8)

This doesn’t even have a proper procedure.

  • 1 banana bunch, peeled, then sliced in half or quartered
  • enough oil for frying
  • butter and sugar, to serve
  1. In a pan/pot, heat enough oil to fry the bananas completely. Fry a few bananas at a time until golden brown. You may need to work in batches. If it’s possible, don’t use tongs to handle the bananas – use a spatula or slotted spoon.
  2. When done, remove from pan and place it on a plate lined with paper towels to absorb the excess oil.
  3. Serve with butter and sugar on the side. Enjoy!