Clam Curry

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I’ve taken it upon me to download whatever torrent file I could get my grubby hands on when I was home a few days ago. Having lived for two months with a plug-it that’s mediocre at best made me more appreciative of the blazing fast internet I have at home. It’s good for the soul, coming home to country comfort.

My mom and I went to the wet market on Saturday to buy some ingredients we need for a little picnic the following day. Before I left, I wanted to have a picnic with my family but things got in the way and it didn’t happen. This time, we made sure that our schedules were wide open. Anyway, there were mounds and mounds of clams in different sizes, (around 5 – 8 per mound) for sale that morning. I didn’t pass up the chance to buy around two mounds because I was inspired by Kumar (of MasterChef AU fame) to cook clams with curry. I’m a big fan of MasterChef Australia, so much in fact, that this blog has thrived after feeding off the show’s happy juju. Thanks to incredible download speeds, I was up-to-date with this season’s offering. The latest season is an All-Stars edition, pitting 4 fan favorites each from season 1 – 3 against each other for charity. In one of the challenges, where it was season 1 vs 2 vs 3 in an all-Indian challenge, Kumar from season 3 cooked mussels (tahong) in coconut milk flavored with a homemade spice mix. We don’t get a lot of really good mussels but clams were in abundance.

Clams and mussels taste like the sea so much that the flavor is unmistakable. It does wonders to soups, rice and now, I can curry to the list. Like most of my kitchen experiments, it was the first time I cooked clams with curry so I just went with gut feel on taste and seasoning.

The garam masala was still in the pantry, albeit a little milder in flavor, and mom always keeps a supply of coconut cream in tetra packs for convenience. I was home…and it was game time. Another home run for the clams.

Clam Curry (serves 2 – 3)

  • around 15 clams
  • 400 ml coconut cream
  • 3 tablespoons curry powder (what I used: 1 1/2 tablespoon garam masala + 1 1/2 tablespoon turmeric powder), or more to taste
  • one 1-inch knob of ginger, minced
  • 1 lemongrass stalk, chopped into 1 inch pieces
  • half a bulb of garlic, minced
  • 1 large white onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 bell peppers (preferably 1 red and 1 green), sliced into thin strips
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 bunch pechay or bok choy, roughly chopped
  • 1 finger chili, sliced, or red pepper flakes (optional)
  1. In a medium-sized pan or sauce pan, preferably with a lid, add a splash or two of oil over medium heat.
  2. Add the garlic and ginger. Allow to toast until fragrant then add the onions. Cook until onions start to go limp. Add the lemongrass and bell peppers and stir everything together.
  3. Add the coconut cream and the spices (and if you’re using it, the chili). Mix everything together until well incorporated. Season with salt and pepper and allow to simmer.
  4. Add the clams and cover the pan.  Allow to cook, making sure to discard the clams that do not open.
  5. Add the pechay at the last minute, stir everything together , let it cook for a bit then remove from heat. Serve warm and enjoy!

 

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Emperor’s Beef Stew

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I’m halfway done with The Girl Who Played With Fire, a novel with as much grit as the first novel that I’m left dumbfounded how I never picked up the series earlier. Suffice to say I have time on my hands, because Mindanao (the large island in the Philippines where my city, Zamboanga, is located) has been going through a power crisis that has apparently pushed it a few hundred steps backwards and into the dark ages, literally. When I’m not doing anything productive (which is most of the time), I read.

And I’m enjoying this laziness a lot – too much apparently that I’m relying on spontaneity to determine what to cook and what to blog about. Time is definitely divided, and I’m actually pretty glad I don’t have to fuss over this little blog too much. Not that fussing over something is inherently bad – but in my case, it has sometimes been counterproductive and counterintuitive.
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Have you ever used a pressure cooker?

(My off-tangent paragraph flow construction amazes me)

I’ve recently made friends with it. Usually it’s my dad who uses it and he always talks about how improper usage will literally kill you. No joke. According to him, opening it without releasing the pressure will apparently cause an explosion. I’ve been perusing youtube for evidence to support his claim, but I realized that even if that were true, I’m not stupid enough to mishandle it in any way.
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The point is, because I fear for my life – that little noisy spindle on top of the pressure cooker lid needs to be lifted in order to release the pressure before I open it. Because the heat is scalding, I use tongs to lift the spindle. I haven’t died yet.

The pressure cooker does wonders to soften tough cuts of meat. We usually use it to soften beef in less than an hour. I had a surplus of beef shanks that were used for soup last Sunday. I was thinking of making it into Osso Buco, but a little Del Monte recipe postcard latched onto our fridge door by ref magnets caught my eye. It seemed easy enough, and I wanted to get back to my reading as soon as possible, so I decided to give it a try. Osso Buco would have to wait.
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The stew itself is savory and hearty, with hints of rice wine, hoisin, soy, and oyster sauce. The sweetness from the pineapples (It’s a Del Monte recipe after all) tempers the saltiness, resulting in something that’s almost like ‘endulsado’ (pork stewed/cooked in soy sauce and sugar), but not quite there yet. That’s a good thing, because endulsado can be cloyingly sweet.

This stew doesn’t need to beg to be wolfed down; it’s just natural to help yourself to a few more servings. Well, at least that’s what I did. I’m not ashamed.
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Emperor’s Beef Stew (serves 4 – 6)

  • ½ cup chopped white onions
  • Half a garlic bulb, minced
  • 1 to 2 pieces dried laurel/bay leaves
  • Freshly cracked pepper, to taste
  • 1 to 1 ½   kg beef shanks, cooked and softened in a pressure cooker (make sure to read manufacturer’s instructions)
  • 3 tablespoons oyster sauce
  • 3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • A scant ¼ cup rice wine or gin
  • 2 ½ cups water
  • 2 pouches Del Monte Pineapple tidbits (115 grams each)
  1.  In a pot large enough to hold the beef, sauté onions, garlic, bay leaves and pepper in oil. Add the beef and sauté until lightly brown.
  2. Add oyster sauce, hoisin sauce, soy sauce, rice wine and water. Simmer over low heat for 30 minutes to soften the beef more.
  3. Add the pineapple tidbits with the syrup and cook for 5 more minutes. Remove from heat and serve warm with rice. Enjoy!

Spicy Prawn Curry with Roasted Tomatoes

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For the past few weeks Fridays have come to mean more than just the American Idol results show and the day where torrent files of my favorite shows come out. I took it upon myself to observe the season of Lent and abstain from eating meat and eat only one full meal every Friday until Easter, among other “restraints”.

Have I been faithful? No, I have taken afternoon snacks so adhering to one full meal has been difficult. Right now typing this, my stomach’s grumbling. Aside from that one Friday where it slipped my mind, I have been trying to avoid pork, chicken and beef. Self-discipline isn’t really one of my strong suits. Probably one of my fatal flaws, but nonetheless I’m proud of myself. Restraining myself, exerting a little measure of discipline during this season, is something that I’ve been trying to do. My cross is heavy but I’m trying to hold on.
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Lent is a season of reflection, of going beyond your usual call of duty and examine yourself in relation to how you treat yourself and others. At least that’s how I see Lent. I don’t claim to know everything about my faith – but I know it’s not perfect. Sometimes my roots are parched – the leaves wilt and fall, and what exactly I need to do about it, makes me wonder even more. But time and time again, my belief in a higher being will never die, no matter how misguided I can be.
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What does the prawn/shrimp* curry have to do with everything? Well, this is just my way of exercising that “restraint” without purposely depriving myself to the point of punishment.
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Have you ever tried to roast tomatoes? Try it, you won’t be disappointed. Have you ever tried to roast garlic? It was my first time to do that today, and I knew I had to put a few tender garlicky segments into the curry, just because I love garlic.
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I still had a little container of garam masala in the pantry from my chicken korma escapade. I didn’t want it to go to waste. Making this wasn’t a stretch at all. As much as I appreciate a spicy curry, the people around here don’t. A few dashes of chili flakes gave it the heat that it needed. To offset it, aside from the coconut milk, I added a few spoonfuls of peanut butter to give it that subtle sweet creaminess.
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A spoonful of this will give a gentle sweetness that  mingles with the bold curry taste, then there is that unmistakable heat that still lingers at the back of your mouth. The roasted tomatoes do their part by offering a sweet tang that gloriously blends with everything else. And there’s nothing wrong with mashing a few pieces of garlic directly into the sauce. Nothing wrong that at all.

Thank God it’s Friday.
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Spicy Prawn Curry with Roasted Tomatoes  (serves 4 – 6)

*Prawns and shrimps are semantically different but can be used interchangeably, though prawns are larger than shrimps. I used prawns for this recipe, but like you, I’m used to saying ‘shrimps’, big or small. That’s OK. I guess. 

  • 200 ml coconut milk
  • half a garlic bulb, minced
  • 1 large white onion, sliced
  • 15 – 20 pieces medium-sized prawns, peeled and deveined.
  • a few pieces of the prawn heads, the sharp pointy things (it’s called a rostrum) and whiskers snipped
  • 1 – 2 tablespoons garam masala
  • a few dashes red chili flakes
  • 2 tablespoons peanut butter
  • 1/2 tablespoon turmeric powder
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 – 5 pieces roasted garlic segments (optional)
  • a few pieces roasted tomatoes 
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  1. Prepare the roasted tomatoes. If you want to roast the garlic, roast it will the tomatoes. I slice around 1/4 inch off the top of the garlic bulb to expose the flesh, then drizzle it with olive oil, salt and pepper. 
  2. In a pan, heat both oils over medium heat. When hot, add the onions, then the garlic. Saute until fragrant. 
  3. Add the coconut milk, then the shrimps heads. Lower the heat to low. Add the garam masala, turmeric, chili flakes and peanut butter. Season with salt and pepper. Adjust taste, color and consistency to your liking. 
  4. Add the roasted garlic and mash with your spoon to incorporate. 
  5. Add the shrimps/prawns and crank up the heat to medium, and cook until both sides turn orange in color, around 3 – 5 minutes. Remove the shrimp heads. 
  6. Add the roasted tomatoes at the last second and mix well. Remove from heat and serve. Enjoy!