A good day at Kettle

I turned twenty-three almost a week ago. It wasn’t a spectacle. I spent it at the restaurant, baking breads and plating a few dishes for a crowd of twenty people (which in my book, is already stressful). My birthday week was my last week interning at The Goose, and as I’m writing this there’s a smile on my face because I survived three challenging months at the restaurant I’ve always wanted to work at. I’m left with a sense of accomplishment, but also uncertainty. I have plans I want to happen, a few paths I want to take but everything isn’t set in stone. Of course I’d love to (finally) earn my keep but more than half of my body and brain is screaming for a vacation. (Am I too demanding, universe? Do I even deserve a vacation?)

I did have two golden Sundays in a row though. The first one I spent with my friends I’ve had since high school at this little restaurant called Kettle. One blog I read about it warned that I shouldn’t make a mistake of ordering one dish per person because the servings are generous to begin with.

It totally makes sense that the five of us ordered six dishes then. Two orders of buttermilk fried chicken, four pieces of boneless chicken thighs and six pieces of cornbread all in all. The chicken was everything good in the world about dark meat – juicy and flavorful.
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The blogs were right. It’s great chicken, partly because of the fact that people actually go the extra mile to serve uncomplicated, boneless chicken and partly because the same people know flavor. It’s not as if demolishing a bone-in chicken isn’t hard. I’ve had a solid reputation of “cleaning” the chicken well, leaving only the bone (sometimes even cleaning up after people’s chicken mess!). But not everyone is gifted with such profound talent.
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The rest of the dishes whizzed by: lamb adobo, a shrimp po’boy sandwich, angus corned beef hash (a great breakfast item that I might go back to Kettle for), and the surprise of the day, seared salmon on a bed of cold soba noodles and a mango relish on the side. I didn’t order it, they did. I had this look on my face that questioned their motives, but I caved in. It was served at an inconvenient time, when we were about to be filled to the brim with all the protein and fat that came before it. I think I said to them, “You ordered the salmon, you eat it”, or something to that effect. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy salmon. But I didn’t condition my mind for salmon, so I was less than enthusiastic.
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They began to devour it, taking the soba by the forkful then piercing the salmon to get shreds of juicy meat. From them came a nod of approval. “Masarap” (delicious). It was my turn to taste it, still on the fence.

Looking back I didn’t see why I was so worked up to begin with. It’s a dish that plays on the richness of the salmon with the freshness of the soba and the cleansing effect of the mango relish. The dark horse was delicious indeed.

We were too hungry that day, so I think ordering too much didn’t allow a lot of savouring to happen. But I was in the company of great people so I didn’t mind it too much.

There’s a part two y’all! Wait for it. Meanwhile, follow me on instagram, because it has more food than selfies. I’m on twitter too!

Waiting out the rain (with pork and cabbage)

I was rushing to school the other day, with my uniform sealed in a plastic garment bag because the weather was incredibly hard on us. Hey, I wanted to make a good first impression. There were no signs that a public vehicle going to my destination was available outside of the place where I’m staying, so I had to take the long way and commute twice.

Because I’m usually lucky with averting tardiness, I arrived on time, only to be greeted by a deserted school and a padlocked main door. It was 30 minutes before class should start and there I was, trying my best not to look like a fool for not checking any notifications before I left. Classes were cancelled. The rain has apparently morphed into proportions fit for a typhoon, but strangely enough, it couldn’t be considered a typhoon – but the numbers don’t lie; the devastation has already surpassed Bagyong Ondoy (typhoon Ondoy, 2009). And it wasn’t a freaking typhoon. Oh and apparently, the real typhoon is coming soon, if what I read on facebook is true. Pray for the Philippines, please?

The rest of my week will be spent waiting out the storm. Food supply is still good, enough to keep us fed until the week ends, and I will never rue the day we chose to live in a subdivision that was flood-free.
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This bowl of ground pork and cabbage was filled to the brim before I decided to photograph it. My friend and I gobbled most of it up like wolves, because thinking about the weather is stressful. As usual, this is nothing fancy – ground sirloin fried with small cubes of potatoes, minced garlic and sliced onions, dressed in a splash of soy sauce, then finished off with half a cabbage, that wilts so much the intimidation goes away with the volume. This is good stuff.

Should I even post the recipe? Yes? No?

What the heck, let’s run with it!
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A Delicious and Hearty Bowl of Pork and Cabbage (serves 2 – 3)

  • 3 tablespoons oil
  • 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 red onion, peeled and sliced
  • around 300 grams ground pork sirloin
  • 1 medium sized potato, peeled and cut into small cubes
  • half a head of cabbage, sliced into think strips
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • a splash of soy sauce (just enough to coat the pork)
  1. In a pan, heat oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and the onions and cook until garlic is fragrant and onions start to go limp.
  2. Add the potatoes and mix to coat with the oil. Fry until the potatoes start to crisp and become golden brown at the edges.
  3. Add the ground pork, season with salt and pepper and cook until it browns and some of the fat starts to render.
  4. Add the soy sauce and mix well until the pork is evenly coated.
  5. Add the cabbage. Carefully mix well to allow the heat to wilt the cabbage.
  6. When done, remove from heat and serve warm with rice. Enjoy!

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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We Ate Like Royalty

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Our place is a 39-square meter condominium unit that we rent at a relatively cheap price. Our kitchen is like a small galley – nothing fancy, with space that isn’t too friendly for a big guy like me, but we get by…I guess. Sure, I’d give an arm and a leg for a kitchen that functions like a kitchen, but what we have right now comes with the territory. Sometimes I think it’s prohibitive, but that’s probably just me being a (bleep) about it.

Our expanding bellies and (slightly) sedentary lifestyle drove me to make this dish one morning. I woke up at around 10am, and we were all hungry so the need was there. Back home, a hefty bowl of pork and sitaw guisado (stir-fried pork with string beans) would merit an even heftier serving of rice. I tried to recreate it to the best of my memory, but I think nothing really comes close to how my Mama Eng would do it. In an attempt to live healthier, my roommates and I splurged on vegetables at the local grocery, so there were carrots and tomatoes sitting in the fridge – of course you know how it ended.
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I didn’t bring anything to help me with photographing the food I cook (no linens, no money to buy linens!) but as luck would have it, my tiny room has a window that lets in a great amount of light. All I had to do was to remove my bed’s mattress and use the wooden frame as my surface! (The things I do to get the shot.)

Extravagant, this isn’t…heck, the technique isn’t something groundbreaking, but during that solitary moment around our little mini bar (we don’t have a table), taking in every single morsel with rice, we ate like royalty.
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Pork and Sitaw (String Beans) Guisado (serves 3)

  • 150 grams sitaw, cleaned and sliced into 2-inch pieces
  • 4 medium-sized tomatoes, quartered
  • 250 grams pork belly, sliced into bite-sized cubes
  • 1 small carrot, sliced
  • 4 tablespoons soy sauce
  • Water to cook the pork + ¼ cup water to cook the string beans
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. In a medium-sized pan, add the pork and enough water to cover the bottom of the pan up to the height of the pork.
  2. Allow to boil over medium heat until the water has almost evaporated. Add the carrots and mix well. The water will begin to cook the carrots.
  3. When the water has evaporated and pork’s fat has rendered, add the string beans and the soy sauce. Mix well to coat evenly. You may add a little bit of water to cook the string beans.
  4. Cook until the water evaporates and the strings beans and carrots are tender. Season with salt and pepper. When done, remove from pan and serve with rice. Enjoy!

The art of breading and frying at Yabu (House of Katsu)

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When a restaurant boldly decides to give itself a title, the connotation that it carries must live up to the hype. Such is the case of Yabu, “The House of Katsu”, located at the 2nd floor of the SM Megamall Atrium. It’s Japanese all the way, but as the name suggests, the menu is chock full of everything breaded and fried (katsudon). Katsudon derives its name from tonkatsu (fried pork cutlet) and donburi (rice bowl).

When we arrived, the place wasn’t jam-packed so reservation or no reservation, we were seated right away. The area was still very spacious, with two main dining areas quirkily separated by a glass (or fiberglass) panel decorated with large pieces of comic book pages that detail how a “katsu master” passes on his wisdom to a naïve apprentice. So the place does invite a little bit of casual humor.
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As soon as we settled in, we were given a small bowl with regular and black sesame seeds, together with a wooden pestle. The server assigned to us gamely demonstrated how the dipping sauce is made, which seemed simple enough for someone like me to understand: really grind the seeds until it resembles coarse powder and then add in the thick sauce. The sauce isn’t too sweet, with a tangy taste that reminds me of really thick Worcestershire sauce.
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The menu also holds the “Yabu promise”: if we’re not happy with what we’ve eaten, they will gladly replace it/we get our money back or if the food isn’t served within 30 minutes, it’s free of charge. The confident declaration of excellence doesn’t stop there: Yabu apparently tapped Chef Kazuya Takeda of Tonkatsu Takeshin (in Tokyo) to help train their chefs. With our tummy’s grumbling, our expectations were definitely high.

Our food arrived around 20 minutes after we gave our orders. Not bad at all.

When you order a Tonkatsu (fried pork cutlet) Set, you can either have the ‘hire’ (flaky pork tenderloin with no fat) or ‘rosu’ (juicy pork loin with a trimming of fat). Prices vary according to the weight of the pork.

We had the 120 gram Rosu Set (355php). It comes with generous serving of unlimited thinly sliced cabbage (according to the comic strip, the cabbage blades need to be exact in thickness) with sesame dressing, unlimited Japanese rice, miso soup, Japanese pickles and a bowl of fruit (watermelon and pineapple – my favorite).
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The problem with cooking pork, especially a cut that doesn’t have a lot of fat, is that it can get very tough if overcooked, and even if it’s cooked perfectly, without the pork fat it can taste bland (I’m a firm believer that pork needs to be served with a generous amount of fat!).

Surprisingly, the pork was juicy and not tough at all. The breading evenly coated the meat well, without it being too crunchy.

You can either dip every piece you skewer in the dipping sauce you made, but I think the katsu can still hold its own without it.

We also had a Hire (tenderloin) and Seafood Mixed Katsu Set (475php) which included a black tiger prawn, scallop, cream dory, eggplant and pepper. This is where things get interesting.
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Of course the hire delivered. It was flaky and had no traces of it being tough, just like the rosu. But when I tried a piece of breaded cream dory, I probably had a foodgasm. My friend felt the same way. Right there I developed tunnel vision and saw only the cream dory which was incredibly soft and flaky without being fishy and slimy. There’s probably no other word to describe it except perfect. It was the perfect marriage of crunch from the breading and silky softness from the fish itself. It doesn’t need to be dipped in the sauce or paired with rice to be appreciated (and loved). But those nuances work, too.
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But I didn’t forget about the other things in the set!

The tiger prawn was cooked perfectly because like the breaded pork, it wasn’t tough at all. My least favorite item on the set would have to be the scallop though just because I would prefer to have it steamed or pan-seared and not breaded. But hey it is a katsu place after all. The eggplant and the pepper were great additions to the set since it offered another “texture under another texture” option.

Both sets had the same side dishes: the cabbage with the sesame dressing duo complimented each other well. Run of the mill coleslaw this is not. But between my friend and I, she liked the cabbage more than I did. The miso soup tasted just the way miso soup should taste like, so no arguments there. I particularly like the Japanese rice, which has a deliciously inviting neutral taste that goes well with the breaded items.
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I ordered shochu (an Iichiko Super, 175php) with my set, which had a great kick to it. Sake (rice wine) is an alcoholic beverage made from rice. Shochu is Japanese liquor made from other ingredients, not just rice: sweet potato, buckwheat or barley. While sake is brewed, shochu is distilled.
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The servers were attentive without being smothering, which is always something I appreciate when dining out.  Although this can be negligible, the chairs a little bit low relative to the height of the table. I’m 5’10” and I did notice that. My friend 5’2” and she was really the one who felt it. But we went through dinner happy and pretty full so it wasn’t that big of a deal!

All in all, Yabu, is the Japanese restaurant that could. I’ve always been partial to all things breaded and fried because that has always been on my list of comfort foods. But this little resto takes it a notch higher by translating authenticity into a casual, no frills dining experience. The prices are a bit steep but I felt that every meal was worth it. I would definitely come back again, if only for the cream dory (haha!) and maybe for more selections next time.

Disclaimer: In the spirit of marketing, I was invited by the brand manager and ordered free of charge. But all opinions are mine.

Yabu: House of Katsu 

2nd floor, SM Megamall Atrium, Julia Vargas Avenue, Mandaluyong City

(02) 576-3900

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/yabuhouseofkatsu

Website: http://www.yabuhouseofkatsu.com

 

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!

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!