Saturday, January 31, 2009

At home: Breakfast.

scrambled eggs, bagel, fruit salad

Have I told you how much I love love love breakfast? And not just any breakfast. Cold cereal is too empty and boring for me. Oatmeal does the trick on a weekday morning, on a day when I forget to bring a bagel or hard boiled egg and must resort to a packet of the instant stuff, but it always lacks that comfort quality for me. And sweets for breakfast? Absolutely not. My sweet tooth, the tiny one that I have, doesn't usually kick in until after lunch. I might make an exception for a cinnamon roll, but I'd sooner eat beef jerky for breakfast than a doughnut or coffee cake. Not that I've ever eaten beef jerky for breakfast or anything...

egg sandwich

No, I eat eggs for breakfast (big surprise there). Whether scrambled with tomatoes and onions the way my dad cooks them, or flipped into a perfect omelet, or fried over-easy over anything, a hearty plate of eggs really makes for a happy start to the day.

french toast toppings

And as long as eggs are involved, the sweet stuff suddenly becomes OK. French toast with omelets? Bring it on. Banana bread topped with a poached egg? Sounds great. A generous side of fruit with my scrambled eggs? Perfect.

french toast
omelets and french toast.
poached egg over banana bread with fruit salad

On a side not, can I say something about the above plate? The one with the brown flowers along the edges. Is it just me, or has every household had this exact same plate at some point? My family doesn't use them anymore, but I managed to dig one up for this picture. I kind of want to take the whole set from my mom, just to keep them alive.

omelet prep

Anyway. My parents' house is probably my favorite place to prepare breakfast. They always have plenty of eggs on hand, with a variety of foods to accompany them -- cooked rice, or veggies for an omelet, or bread. I love exploring their fridge in the morning and finding something new to eat. When I was there a couple of weeks ago, my mom made a big bowl of fruit salad that lasted days. She also made lots of omelets.

cooking the veggie omelet

Her omelet-making method is different than mine; she combines the scrambled eggs and veggies to the pan, then slides it onto a plate when the bottom has set and flips it back over into the pan to cook the other side. This method is way too complicated for me. But the results are colorful and tasty.

veggie omelet with fruit salad

Are you sick of me gushing over eggs yet? I'm sorry. Kind of. But not really.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Chicken sotanghon with patola. Or chicken vermicelli soup with Chinese okra. Or Filipino chicken noodle soup.

chicken sotanghon with patola (or chicken vermicelli soup with chinese okra)

My dad made this soup for lunch one day, after a long morning of playing pretend with a a certain two-year-old. It was warm and comforting and filling. The noodles were enjoyably slurpable, the broth steaming and flavorful, and the patola (Chinese okra) was kind of like a cucumber. Another one of those dishes that I'm not quite sure if my parents just made up or if it's actually a soup served in Filipino households.

Dad called it Filipino chicken noodle soup. Which was what I was planning on titling this post until someone commented on my Flickr photo of this dish. In Tagalog.

"Anu yan Filipino sotanghon?"

chicken sotanghon with patola (or chicken vermicelli soup with chinese okra)

My first reaction was, "Uhhhh...what?" Yes, it's true: I don't understand my parents' native language, even though I grew up hearing it every day of my life. Back then, my parents didn't know that little kids soak up languages like a sponge, so they taught my sisters and I only English so we wouldn't get confused. My Filipino vocabulary was limited to such words as "vomit," "butt," "naked," and "fart." Oh, and "Have you eaten yet?"

Now, of course, I wish I had learned it. Not being able to understand makes me feel a sort of disconnect, leading me to wonder...Am I Filipino-American? Or American-Filipino? Oh God. Does that even make sense?

OK, clearly it's getting late, and what started out as a post about a soup with slurpy noodles has turned into a mini cultural identity crisis, which is just absurd. So let's wrap things up, shall we?

chicken sotanghon with patola (or chicken vermicelli soup with chinese okra)

Here's my conclusion: Foods in different languages just sound way better than their English counterparts. Filipino chicken noodle soup, or chicken sotanghon with patola? No contest. So what if I had to ask my mom what sotanghon means? I guess it just goes to show that if there's one language I can learn, it's that of food.

*The question on Flickr asked if the photo is of sotanghon, or vermicelli. Also known as glass noodles.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Korean dinner at Woo Lae Oak.

I've been pretty busy since my last post, with family in town and a happy little niece to chase around. So today, I offer you just a few words and a whole lotta photos. These pictures are from my parents' anniversary dinner at Woo Lae Oak, a Korean barbecue restaurant in Rolling Meadows. I love Korean barbecue -- it kind of reminds me of tapas, except Asian. And this time, we went with a real live Korean (Jenny's boyfriend, Terry)!

welcome to woo lae oak.
A teacup.

the ceiling at woo lae oak
The ceiling.

korean barbecue. (before)
Our table and grill, before the feast.

crowded table
Our table and grill, with banchan.

banchan collage
Hello, banchan. Clockwise, from top left: salted little fishies, fish cake type things, bright pink pickled radish (?), green onion bundles with spicy sauce, a scoop of mashed potato, and kimchi.

I think the little fishies are my favorite.

cute little fishie i will eat you
Hi there, little fishie.

interesting soup.
Some interesting soup. A cold, pickled broth. With fruit! Yes, like apples and stuff. Like I said, it was interesting, but a good interesting. Kind of like a palate cleanser.

heating up the grill.
Here's the grill, heating up. The waitress cooked our meat at the table for us.

meats collage
Aaaaand here's the meat. Clockwise from top left: bulgogi and chicken, some spicy meat, scallops and calamari, beef strips, more scallops and calamari, and galbi.

Oh! Here's some more banchan.

bi bim bap with fresh salmon! but no egg. :(
I ordered bi bim bap, because I just couldn't resist. It came with fresh salmon, but no fried egg. Which made me happy and sad all at the same time, but mostly just happy because oh how I love fresh salmon.

Mmm...galbi. So flavorful and tender and juicy and special.

lettuce wrap collage
We got a big plate of lettuce to make wraps.

destroyed. (after)

An awesome meal. Definitely better than that place in Lisle that Murdo and I went to. Murdo couldn't make it to Woo Lae Oak, so I'll definitely be back there with him.

*A special thanks to Jenny, my assistant photog during the meal.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Chorizo stuffed peppers.

topless red pepper

We eat a lot of ground beef around here. Chili, shepherd's pies, menudo, tacos. It's easy, it's filling, and because Murdo's dad is a farmer and gets about half a cow's worth of beef every year, it's free. (Thanks, Big Murdo.)

But sometimes, ground beef is just plain boring. We're down to our last pound in the freezer, and while I could've used it for these stuffed peppers on Thursday night, I just couldn't bring myself to do it. Because then it would be like everything else I cook. And I don't want to bore you.

I was determined to make stuffed peppers, though. I had all this leftover cooked rice, and I had these peppers, and...well, stuffed peppers just made sense. So I sent Murdo to the store to get some chorizo. And Murdo, being the chorizo-lovin' fool that he is, didn't argue.

chorizo stuffing for peppers

Ahhh, chorizo. So vibrant and flavorful. How can any chorizo dish be boring? It's even fun to say. Chorizo. Chorizo. Chor-eeeeee-zo.

Anyway. I browned the chorizo just as I would ground beef, and added onions, garlic, the chopped tops of the peppers, spinach, and cooked rice. Meanwhile, my peppers were swimming in boiling water for about five minutes. When all was said and done, I stuffed the peppers (two green and one red) with the chorizo mixture and popped them in the oven for about half an hour.

I also made guacamole. Just for the hell of it.

i made guacamole.

Now usually when I make stuffed peppers, I just cut off the tops of the peppers and stuff them whole, then cut them in half before serving. But after this round, I've decided to start cutting them in half before stuffing them. I think I can get a lot more stuffing in that way. And top with more cheese.

stuffed peppers with chorizo, rice, and spinach

Murdo actually ate the leftovers the next night. And styled his plate all by himself:

leftover stuffed peppers

I love it. I'm always afraid some people just get impatient when I'm taking pictures of cooking and food. But instead, they often suggest adding certain ingredients for color, or arrange the food just so, or just sit back patiently. Especially Murdo. (But he does get mad when I curse at my camera at the dinner table. I guess that is kind of rude. Sorry.)

Still. It proves that there's a little foodie in all of us.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Oh-So-Easy Orzo. With shrimp!

Apparently, sometime in a past life, I went through a shrimp pasta phase. All I cooked was pasta. All I added was shrimp. And whatever vegetables I had on hand. And cheese.

orzo with shrimp, peas, spinach, and grape tomatoes

I vaguely remember making pasta with shrimp a couple of times in the past. Murdo insists that I made it so much, he got shrimped out. So shrimped out that when I was frantically searching my recipe books and websites last weekend (I was determined to cook something blog-worthy for dinner that night) and casually mentioned shrimp pasta, he groaned. "Awww I knew you were gonna say that." I guess shrimp pasta is my go-to dish when I'm stumped for ideas. Who knew?

So I didn't make it that night. I made menudo, instead. But the shrimp pasta was still in the back of my mind. I had all of the ingredients for a perfectly light, easy, and delicious pasta, and they were just aching to be used before they wilted and rotted away in my fridge. So the next night I made orzo with shrimp, grape tomatoes, spinach, and green peas. Topped with shredded Parmesan cheese. Murdo had gyros from Nicky's.

orzo with shrimp, peas, spinach, and grape tomatoes

As I was cooking this dish, I suddenly remembered that Yes, I did make shrimp pasta a lot because Holy Crap, this dish is so quick and easy. In fact, I added shrimp to almost everything, simply because it tastes good with almost everything and it only takes a few minutes under cold water to thaw. (I'm pretty bad at planning meals and remembering to defrost meat ahead of time, so oftentimes I really want to make something on the spot but can't because the meat is frozen solid.)

In the time it took to boil water and cook the orzo, the shrimp and the veggies were ready. I ate the leftovers for lunch a couple of days later, and even tossed a couple of spoonfuls with some fresh baby spinach the next night for a late-night salad.

I don't think I could ever get shrimped out.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

I eat fried butterfish with my bare hands.


OK. Some of you might think this is kind of gross. I mean, they have faces. They're staring straight at you. And they're not cut up and thrown in a stew with colorful veggies and thick sauce to disguise the fact that they have eyeballs. Nope. They're fried whole. And they're still looking at you when plated and nestled between a mound of white rice and pile of juicy tomatoes.

But I have to tell you: Fried butterfish is one of my favorite foods. And when served with white rice, kamote leaves, and tomatoes, it becomes one of my Top 5 Filipino dishes (along with kare-kare, vegetable lumpia, nilaga, and palabok).

fried butterfish

Wait, there's more. I eat this stuff with my hands. All of it. Because there's no polite way to eat a whole fish -- head, tail, and all. Eating it with a fork is just awkward and useless. So I just dig in with my fingers. And there's no point picking up a fork once my hands get all greasy with crispy fish bits, so I eat the rice with my hands, too. (Which is actually a pretty normal Filipino thing to do.)

Mmm...I've painted quite the image, haven't I? Well, here's the kicker: The tail is my favorite part. It's so crispy and salty, like a potato chip almost, and it's usually the first part I eat. And I'm not the only one in my family who likes the tails -- it's not uncommon for a few tail-less fish to show up on the serving platter, as the cook and passers-by often can't resist plucking them off while the others are still frying.

fried butterfish

The fish shown above wasn't served with kamote leaves, but it was still delicious. My dad fried them up for lunch sometime over the holidays. The salty and crunchy goes perfectly with the fresh, juicy tomatoes and the soft, fluffy rice. I had already eaten Christmas Eve leftovers an hour or so before, but I couldn't resist getting my hands on a fish or two. I told myself I was allowed because it was the holidays. And because they're my favorite.

On a side note...I originally wasn't going to write a post about this meal. I thought it might be too weird, that the pictures might be too unappealing. But being ashamed of the foods I grew up with has been something I've struggled with in the past, and sometimes still is, believe it or not. Which is why I try so hard not to pass judgment on foods that may look or seem bizarre. It's why I like trying everything. It's why I decided to say, Fuck it, it's my blog and I'll post ugly fish if I want to. And drop the F-bomb while I'm it.


Monday, January 5, 2009


I ate a lot of "stuff" when I was younger: Peanut butter stuff (kare-kare). Eggplant omelet stuff (tortang talong). That stuff with raisins (menudo).

I don't know when or why I suddenly started asking the real names of the food I was eating. For a long time, I didn't even know certain dishes were actual Filipino foods, like tortang talong (which I still call eggplant omelet) or menudo. I just thought my mom made them up.

filipino menudo. sort of.

This version certainly isn't a true Filipino menudo. For one thing, I didn't add raisins, and the raisins are what really make the dish -- I mean, that's how I identified the dish for years. But there were no raisins in my pantry, and being a Lazy Sunday, I certainly wasn't going out to the store for anything.

Secondly, after doing a little blog research, I'm pretty sure a true menudo is made with pork. And liver. And garbanzo beans. But my mom doesn't use those ingredients. Occasionally she'll use pork, but it's always ground pork. I always remember eating menudo with ground beef.

And that's all fine. I used to be weird about tweaking Filipino dishes, simply because I felt that they should always taste the way my parents make them. But that was before I started cooking them for myself. I certainly like to learn the original recipe first, but once I've got that down, there's no harm in playing around to create something all my own.

So my version of menudo consisted of ground beef, onions, garlic, green pepper, potatoes, carrots and celery (not usually in the real stuff but added for color and crunch), soy sauce, stewed tomatoes (instead of the usual tomato paste), and no raisins. Served over rice.

Of course it didn't taste like my mom's. I didn't make it very saucy either, which I later regretted. But it was still tasty and filling, and that's all that really matters in the end.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

A chicken stew of sorts.

I don't really like following recipes. All those required ingredients and measurements to's just too much of a commitment for me. Sometimes I'll find a recipe, decide to try it, pick up the necessary ingredients (some that I don't normally use in my everyday cooking -- heavy whipping cream, for example), and change my mind. The ingredients are left unused and rotten in my fridge by the next week, and I'm left feeling unaccomplished and wasteful.

My favorite recipes are those I can use as simply a guide. One that I can tweak, learn from, and even mess up a little without completely ruining the dish. One that I can substitute ingredients for depending on what's in my fridge and pantry that day. One that I can make differently every time.

This chicken stew was inspired by a photo and a blog post. The recipe provided on the site is loose and easily edited. And when described as a "crustless pot pie," I was sold.

chicken stew and roasted potatoes

I served my version (onions, carrots, celery, green peas, and a couple of poached chicken breasts) over oven-roasted potatoes. The potatoes were in the oven for an hour, crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, which was a perfect balance of textures to pair with the thick stew.

This one's a keeper.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Bringing in the new year with a whole lotta garlic.

garlic head

A whooooole lotta garlic.

When my mom first started teaching me to cook, each dish started with garlic. It's a base ingredient for most Filipino foods, and it's become second nature for me to add three to five cloves of garlic to most everything I cook.


Garlic is also the best way to get Murdo to eat anything. He's one of those "there-can-never-be-too-much-garlic" people, who thinks adding more garlic to anything instantly makes the dish better. Which I don't agree with -- there can certainly be too much garlic sometimes, and I've come to hate having a garlic taste (and offensive breath) linger in my mouth for days. So when I found a recipe for 44-clove garlic soup over at Smitten Kitchen, it was mainly for Murdo that I decided to try it out.

roasted garlic cloves

A new year, a new recipe, a chance to use the stick blender that I got for Christmas, and enough garlic to ward off a whole year's worth of vampires (which is obviously the second reason why I made this soup -- to keep bloodsucking demons away in 2009). But I'll be perfectly honest with you: I was a little worried. About how strong the soup might turn out and how forcefully the smell of garlic would cling to the apartment walls, the apartment building, my hair. But what the hell; let's start off the new year with a little adventure. And stank.

roasted garlic cloves

Oh my. This soup is effing garlicky. Served over a pile of shredded Parmesan cheese and squirted with a lemon wedge, the first taste was definitely a mellow mingling of flavors and textures that I did enjoy. But as we kept eating, the soup just kept getting more and more garlicky. A subtle garlicky, but still, there was no getting around it -- this was roasted garlic soup, and each spoonful reminded me like a slap on the wrist that I was the fool who decided to make a soup with 44 cloves of garlic in it. What was I thinking?

onions and thyme

This soup will forever be the dish that brought Murdo to utter the words, "There is such a thing as too much garlic." Don't get me wrong -- it wasn't inedible by any means. But neither of us finished our bowls. And I won't be making it again.

But what does this mean for the new year? Am I destined for disappointment in 2009? No. Because I certainly don't regret making this soup. It was actually kind of fun -- roasting the garlic, and squeezing them out of their skins, and knowing that while such an obscene amount of garlic could freak a lot of people out, I remained unafraid.

Besides, I wasn't really expecting a soup that would knock my socks off. I was just curious, that's all. So maybe that means it will be a year of satisfying curiosities. Of taking risks. Of sitting back and enjoying the journey, even if the destination is a little less than wow.

roasted garlic soup