Corned Beef

St. Patrick’s Day will be here in a few days.  But I couldn’t wait wait to have Corned Beef with Cabbage before it came, so here it is.

This dish reminded me of Nilagang Baka and I always cooked it the Filipino-way, boiling it with onion and black peppercorn till it was falling apart.  Then adding in the potatoes and cabbage.

When it came time to eating, I grimaced when Spouse slathered the meat with brown mustard.  I persisted in having some steamed rice to go with my corned beef and cabbage and Spouse even tried that.  Although, he did insist on saving a few slices for a Reuben.

Old habits are hard to break, but when it comes to food, I’ve been known to try almost everything.  After a few years of cooking this dish, I’ve conceded and now cook and eat it the American way. Continue reading “Corned Beef”

Noche Buena

Literally meaning “good night” but not to be confused with the greeting “buenas noche” in Spanish. Noche Buena to Filipinos and other countries around the world with ties of colonization to Spain, is the Christmas Eve meal where families gather round the table to feast on traditional dishes of the season.

Why Christmas Eve and not Christmas Day? This is because Catholics attend a midnight mass on Christmas Eve to welcome the day Christ was born. Families heard mass together for this special day, and the big meal came before that.

In the old days when my mother was responsible for the Noche Buena meal, we had to have her chicken gallantina or relleno. She did the de-boning of the native chicken herself, a skill she learned from her mother. This skill was also handed down to a sister and a cousin, who was only a few years old when he first saw my mother doing it. The chicken had to be marinated while the meat stuffing prepared. Any left-over stuffing was rolled into a log and wrapped in the “sinsal” and cheesecloth for embotido. The chicken would be stuffed, sewn up then wrapped in cheesecloth which was also sewed up to keep the chicken all tight. This was then boiled for hours until the tough native chicken was tender.

We also had pochero, a stew made with various meats boiled and sauteed in a tomato sauce. The broth from this dish was saved for fideos, a soup made with angel hair pasta. This particular soup always reminded us of our grandmother, my Lola Blanca, this was her dish. I remember it from years past, with that “bahay guya” and unhatched eggs sliced in with it. It’s a rich, satisfying soup, perfect for those cold December nights of years past.

My father was in charge of the ham. Weeks before Christmas, he’d buy the ham from the same Chinese deli in Quiapo his side of the family got their ham for years, and it would hang in the kitchen until it was unwrapped days before Christmas. He would soak it for a day or two, changing the water twice daily. Then it would be ready for the cooking in my grandmother’s old, heavy stainless steel laundry basin which was cleaned mercilessly in preparation for its change of role.

Boiled for hours until most of the salt is gone, the water in the ham would still have to be changed several times to get it right. The last boiling was done with several other ingredients to flavor the ham. All of this was done in our backyard, over a wood fire. After they determined it was ready, the skin would be peeled off and the ham would then change hands. This time, it went to my mother who prepared the fat on the topside, scoring it into a diamond pattern, putting the brown sugar and then searing it with a heated and ancient cast-iron syansi with a long handle. Pineapple, cherries and cloves would then be decorate the top and off the ham went again into the oven for a final, quick roast. The whole painstaking process was a joy to watch, and the effort produced a great ham unlike any you can find today.

I loved how the best china, silverware and linens were brought out for the occasion. There was nothing better than to sit at that table groaning with all the good food and the sounds of a family gathering. The food and its preparation just brought us all together as a family and now partaking was only a pleasant experience.

Over the years, there’d be a rotation of other entrees, salads and desserts: a large fish with mayonnaise, mechado, morcon, paella, macaroni salad, fruit salad, potato salad, jalea ube, macapuno, leche flan, pabo embuchado, stuffed turkey, roast pork loin and others I cannot recall right now. We all had a hand in preparing the meals, it was such a joy to just sit and watch my grandmother and parents. I cannot recall the stories my mother told us as she was working, but I remember she always explained things, teaching us her secrets while laughing and enjoying herself.

These were the essentials that made Christmas Noche Buena a traditional one for my family. It wasn’t just the food – it was the bonds of family, from past generations to the next one, that made all the difference. I can only hope the next generations can recall Christmases past just as happily as I do now.

Culver’s Frozen Custard

Culver’s is a restaurant made famous by their mouth-watering ButterBurger.  I have to do another post on their burger when I have photos. Ohhh……mmm….and if I remember to take a shot before I take a bite.

They’re a 22-year old restaurant chain out of Wisconsin, the state made famous by cheese. Spouse and I like going to this restaurant because their burgers are exceptionally good and because they have a clean, well-lit place that just makes eating all the more pleasing. Continue reading “Culver’s Frozen Custard”

Cincinnati Chili

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This is not your usual chili.  For one, it’s served “on top of spaghetti, all covered with cheese”.  This one in the photo is known as a five-way.  

It’s served with the chili or meat sauce, beans, cheese (I used provolone so you can hardly see it in the photo) and chopped raw onions over spaghetti noodles.  It’s a fantastic combination.

Another thing that makes this chili different are the spices for flavoring, including:  cinnamon, allspice and even cocoa powder….not your usual chili, like I said. Continue reading “Cincinnati Chili”

Fish with Blackbeans



After cooking a dish a couple of times, and introducing some of your own innovations, it becomes yours.  Like this Fish with Blackbeans and Tofu which has become one of mine and Spouse’s favorites. This recipe is based on a couple of recipes I used in the past.

It’s evolved to be a quick and easy dish, preparation-wise,  much simpler than the original versions.  I’ve also eliminated the use of cornstarch since I prefer my sauce lighter.

The only difficult step here is the frying of the fish and tofu.  I dislike frying anything because of the cleanup that’s required after.  But for this, it’s a necessary evil – both the cleaning and the frying… Continue reading “Fish with Blackbeans”

Salad Nicoise

If you’re a carnivore like I’ve always been, you’ll understand why I say, a salad for lunch is like undeserved punishment.  It’s only after I got married a few years ago, that I started thinking of a more balanced diet and included salads in my regular fare.  But this particular one is so substantial and good, even I crave it once in a while.  It’s called Salad Nicoise.

This is a classic from the Nice region in France.The basic ingredients for a classic Nicoise will include anchovies, black olives, tuna, hard-boiled eggs and tomatoes.  Everything else, so I’ve been told, is incidental or the ccook’s own choice.

You can use a bottled dressing but making your own from scratch will really only take a few minutes.  It’s nothing at all like commercial preparations.

In the early days of my attempts at homemade dressings, I would put everything in a bottle, close the lid tight and shake it all up till it came together.  I always worried about the dressing separating on me, mainly because it had – more times than I care to remember, actually.

Eventually, I realized if I make the dressing just before I serve, it won’t have time to separate – so there went all my fears….

This recipe is from Nora Daza’s “A Culinary Life” written with Michaela Fenix.  It’s the best recipe for Nicoise I’ve tried. Continue reading “Salad Nicoise”

Hail Caesar!

My very first job was for a five-star restaurant group with its head office located in Bistro Burgos in Makati. 

Bistro Burgos was the first bistro in the Philippines by the way.  Everyday, the restaurant manager, Mang Johnny, would supervise the making of the day’s Caesar Salad Dressing just before the restaurant opened for lunch.  It was either the Maitre’d or the Captain Waiter who would have the honor of whipping up this very popular dressing.

I loved watching these guys mashing the anchovy and garlic in the big, wooden bowl on a stand.   I loved watching the dressing come together as the oil was slowly drizzled in.  Since my boss was out of the country for the few months I worked for him, I had time to spend in the restaurant listening to Mang Johnny with his many stories of those days when he was a restaurant manager, captain waiter and maitre’d at the finest establishments in Manila.  The man must’ve been in his late 70’s when I first met him, so he had a lot of stories to tell.  Ohhh, yes….interesting stories of politicians, and entertainers, international personalities, wives, mistresses and egos – big and small.

Anyway, I thought I didn’t have the wrists to make a success of this dressing.  All I did for years was shake dressing ingredients in a bottle and never attempted a Caesar’s salad dressing.

I tried it the other day though and the results surprised me.  It was delicious and better than any bottled dressing I’ve ever bought, gourmet or not.  I’ll never be intimidated by any salad dressing after I’ve made a success of my first Caesar’s salad dressing.

Try it one time, and don’t feel intimidated.  Just prepare all ingredients beforehand and have it ready before you start whipping. Continue reading “Hail Caesar!”