Sunday, January 22, 2017

Mom's Pinakbet (vegetable stew) is a tasty sure bet!

Mom's Pinakbet.. and I helped her make this!
On my quest to learn how to make more Filipino dishes, trying a new recipe can be a wild card. Not really sure how the dish will turn out, hoping it will taste edible and somewhat resemble what the recipe's photos look like. From experience, new recipes, with some tinkering, have turned out amazing and sometime times, they are a fail. Like my recent attempt to make pinakbet (pee-nahk-BEHT), mixed vegetables steamed in shrimp sauce, also known as bagoong (bah-gah-UHNG).

Usually I consult with my mom on any new recipe, Filipino or not, getting her advice on what ingredients to use and method of cooking. She is a self-taught home cook and one of the best in my books! She rarely uses recipes but seems to have a knack for honing in on what makes a dish taste authentically delicious. Her culinary wisdom has guided me and helped me nail many of the dishes on my first try like lumpiang shanghai (spring rolls), pancit canton (noodle stir fry), bibingka (coconut cake) and leche flan (caramel custard).

However, I was under a personal time crunch wanting to post my pinakbet recipe on my blog last weekend.  So I resorted to researching numerous recipes online and in cookbooks. I landed on a pinakbet recipe from the cookbook, Filipino Homestyle Dishes, Delicious Meals in Minutes by Norma Olizon-Chikiamco. The pinakbet recipe was titled, "Braised Pork with Vegetables (Pinakbet)".  
Did you know: Pinakbet is a dish that originated from in the Iloco region (Northwestern Luzon in the Philippines) and now popular throughout the Philippines. 
The pinakbet photo in the cookbook made me salivate featuring the bright colours of the vegetables, gulay (GOO-lie). Layered greens from the okra, green beans and the bitter gourd, ampalaya (am-pah-lie-YA), and pop of golden yellow from the pumpkin and sauteed pork belly. There were thoughtful instructions on how to prep the bitter gourd (seed, slice and soak in a salt and vinegar brine), which is a new vegetable for me to cook with and the rest of the recipe seemed fairly straight forward. 

The directions are to first saute the pork belly to render the fat. Then using the oil as flavouring and layering all the vegetables like a lasagna starting with the bitter gourd at the bottom and working your way up with tomatoes, onions, green beans, okra, pumpkin, eggplant then sprinkle the garlic at the top. Once all the vegetables were arranged, pour in the shrimp paste mixture with water and let the vegetables steam. 

Layered pinakbet vegetables which I over cooked;(
After 10-15 minutes of steaming, the pinakbet looked too watery like a soup. The vegetables were all soggy with a bright pink hue from the bagoong. The dish tasted extremely bitter and fishy. It was a pinakbet fail! 

My failed Pink Pinakbet (not suppose to be pink), but a good learning experience!
This was an culinary emergency! Hoping I could resurrect the dish, I immediately called my mom to explain the pinakbet disaster. She wanted to know exactly what happened and when I walked her through the steps, she said nothing can be done to save it. Disaster! On the bright side, my Mom said to bring the dish over and bravely said she'd eat it with my Dad and determine what went wrong. 

This is her prognosis on my key recipe mistakes:1) Used raw bagoong, the shrimp fry is still pink. I should have use sauteed bagoong that you either fry yourself with oil, onion and garlic or you can buy already fried bagoong, which looks like a thick and dark brown oily paste.
Uncooked bagoong
Sauteed bagoong - use this one!
2) Used the Chinese bitter gourd, the knobs are smoother and the green is a bit paler. I should have used the Indian bitter gourd, it is shorter and darker green with smaller but more protruding knobs along its rough exterior. 

Indian bitter gourd (on the left) and Chinese bitter gourd (on the right)
3) Boiled the vegetables and for too long, made them soggy. I should have steamed them with less liquid and for a shorter period of time so they stayed crisp!

With that, she gave me a tutorial on her pinakbet recipe which we did together and it turned out amazing!! My Dad was our taste tester and gave his stamp of approval for authenticity in taste and texture. 

Here's my Mom's pinakbet recipe, a tasty sure bet!

Pinakbet Gulay (vegetables)
Pinakbet gulay (vegetables) about to be cooked!
1 1/2 cups bitter gourd (Indian variety), seeded and sliced into small pieces 
2 tbsp salt
1/4 cup thinly sliced uncured pork belly (can use bacon instead)
1 cup raw shrimp (preferably fresh with shell)
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/8 cup fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
1 cup roma tomato, diced
3 tbsp sauteed bagoong
2 cups long green beans, cut into 2" lengths
1 1/2 cups okra, trimmed and sliced into 1" pieces
4 cups Chinese eggplant, cut into 1" chunks
4 cups pumpkin, peeled and cubed
2 cups water
Salt and fish sauce (patis) to taste

1. Sprinkle 2 tbsp salt on sliced bitter gourd and set aside for 15 minutes. Then rinse salt off bitter gourd with water.
2. Over medium heat, place sliced pork belly in a sauce pan and saute for 5 minutes or until crisp and golden brown. Remove pork and keep rendered fat in the pan to saute the shrimp for 3-5 minutes or until shrimp turn pink. Then immediately remove from pan to avoid from overcooking and getting tough. 
3. In the same pan with the pork belly's rendered fat, saute the onion with a pinch of salt until it turns translucent, 3-5 minutes. The add the garlic, ginger, tomatoes and bagoong. Saute for 5-7 minutes until the tomatoes break down and become a sauce. 
4. Add the vegetables, green beans, okra, pumpkin, eggplant and 2 cups of water. Mix all the vegetables together in the sauce. Once the sauce starts to boil then add the bitter gourd. The goal is to not stir the pinakbet while it is cooking as it could make the dish quite bitter. Cover the pan and let steam for 15-20 minutes or until the vegetables are just tender. 
5. Season with fish sauce then top with the cooked shrimp and crispy pork belly. Serve with hot white fluffy rice and eat immediately, masarap!

Pinabket ready to be devoured!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Love for ube ensaymada (purple sweet potato pastry)!

Merienda at Nanding's Bakery with Ube Ensaymada!
I grew up eating ube, pronounced (oo-bae), in Filipino desserts like ice-cream with turon (fried banana spring roll) or ube halaya (cooked paste) on halo-halo (shaved ice). Ube is a starchy root vegetable similar to sweet potato and it's usually used in sweet dishes. The best part is it's deep purple that gives a natural vibrant violet colour in cakes, flans and pastries.
Did you know: Besides ube's natural purple color, and they are rich in vitamin A and C and potassium.
Raw ube (purple sweet potato)
Ube paste (ube hayala)
Recently on our trip to Waikiki, Hawaii, we came across a Filipino bakeshop, Nanding's Bakery, after a good morning run along the Ala Wai Canal. My husband and I worked up an appetite and as reward for running in the Hawaiian heat, craved a post workout merienda (a snack)!
A fun fact: I have an Uncle Nanding from my father's side.
Look Uncle Nanding, your name is on an awesome bakery in Honolulu;)
We were greeted by two friendly Filipinas behind the bakery's display case featuring many of my Filipino favourites like pandesal (sweet bread roll), empanadas, bibingka and so many more delicious breads and pastries. 

A jewel display case filled with Filipino pasrtries, hold me back!!

I narrowed in on the ube ensaymada and couldn't wait to see how the ube would taste within the light brioche bread topped with butter and sugar. Quickly after hearing our order, a Japanese tourist also ordered the ube ensaymada to try it for herself!

Yummm...ube ensaymada!
All three of us soon sat by the sun-filled front entrance of the bakery and we all quickly tucked into our pastries of choice. The Japanese tourist had the spanish roll and when asked how it was, offered us one which we declined. She insisted we join her so my husband and I had one to share. It had a shape of a thin hot dog bun and was still warm! It was sweet, airy, buttery and melted in our mouths within moments on taking a bite. Masarap!!
Spanish rolls from Nanding's Bakery
We soon jumped into the ube ensaymada by first removing the wax paper that it was baked in which revealed the hidden thick lavender filling around the sweet bun.  The ube had the texture of softened butter and just slightly sweetened. Before we knew it, there were just crumbs left on the wooden table.  This is what pastry dreams are made of...fluffy, creamy and buttery in every bite. 

Nanding's Bakery doesn't mess around with their Ube Ensaymada!
We'd come back for more and would be hard pressed not to try everything in their bakery. We will likely do just that after our morning runs because the Filipino goodies from Nanding's Bakery are so worth the calories!

Sunday, January 8, 2017

lsland Breakfasts: Filipino Tapsilog & Hawaiian-Style

Daybreak on these cold mornings in Vancouver brings lots of food choices but lately, the warm island weather of the Philippines have me craving food from my childhood. 
Did you know: Rice is deeply ingrained (pun intended!) in the Filipino culture and cuisine, so naturally the first meal of the day (as well as lunch and dinner) would include rice. 
Filipino Tapsilog Breakfast
My blog post on tapsilog is my favourite Filipino breakfast made with tapa (fried, cured beef strips), sinangag (fried garlic rice), and itlog (sunny side-up fried egg). You get the fragrant garlic fried rice, buttery egg and savoury tapa all in one delicious plate. Tapsilog is my perfect comfort food in the morning to warm and fill me up for the day.
Candice's Cusina's Tapsilog
Tasty Tip: Leftover rice for sinangag (fried garlic rice) is preferred over freshly cooked because day-old rice has a drier and hardier texture can withstand the high cooking temperature of making fried garlic rice.
Hawaiian-Style Breakfast
A sunny start to 2017, my husband, Jaeger, and I were able to escape the unusual freezing temperatures of Vancouver to balmy Waikiki for a much deserved vacation!

Aloha from Waikiki!
On our first morning in tropical paradise, we seek out a hearty Hawaiian breakfast and landed in Waikiki Breakfast Kitchen.  A small hole-in-the wall eatery connected to a moped rental on a small side street off the main road, Kalakaua Avenue.  They operate on island time, a little slow because there was only one person who took the orders, cooks and cleans. For the food and value it's worth the wait! They serve breakfast all day and had a good selection of local favourites all under $5 USD.  

Waikiki Breakfast Kitchen Menu, cheap and cheerful!
We went for the Hawaiian-style hot breakfast, menu item #1 of spam, sausage, eggs and rice for exactly $4 USD. I liked that they had condiments like spicy sriracha and furikake, a Japanese condiment, a mix of sesame seeds, chopped seaweed, ground dried fish, salt and pepper, that I put on top of my breakfast for added flavour. Yum!!
Hawaiian-style breakfast
This Hawaiian breakfast was delicious with the silky sunny side eggs, fluffy white rice, savoury spam and sausage that provided ample energy to last the day's sightseeing, walking and shopping!

Island Breakfasts Comparison
Tapsilog and Hawaiian-style breakfast are very similar in taste and texture with rice, egg, and savoury meat. A good combo to soothe a hangover or kick start the day. 

Living in Vancouver, you will get the side eye for having spam in the Hawaiian breakfast (or in any meal) because meat-from-a-can isn't too appetizing for most healthy West Coast local. 

photo credit: Beyond Kimchi
The tapsilog gets bonus points because you can make the tapa at home by marinating the beef in a sweet soy sauce then cooked until the meat becomes a tender jerky and ready for breakfast.

Tapa marinating in goodness!
Deliciously cooked tapa! 
Like the Filipino tapsilog, the Hawaiian breakfast isn't fancy but they are both breakfasts of champions that will fill you up for the day. They are also so satisfying because the rice, eggs and savoury meats feel and taste like home.  Salamat and Mahalo!
Masarap & Ono!!