Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Flippin' For Filipino Palabok...

You know when you taste something that completely knocks your socks off, and you don't know why you didn't respond this way the other times you had it?... could it be that the chef at this place prepared it better, was there a secret agreeable ingredient or the dish just connected with you this time, but whatever it is, you are super happy for it! Cause it just expanded yet another territory in your cooking and eating repertoire. An impact so strong, you just have to pull your sources together to replicate it for your family and friends so they can experience the wonders you did (plus I was dreaming about it all weekend when other moms swooned over flowers and their kids' mother's day crafts)... And for me, it's expanding my knowledge of nuances in different cuisines and further spreads that love of learning and teaching in what I do-- at home and in my culinary profession.

Today I am talking about Filipino palabok-- noodles smothered in shrimp gravy topped with cooked shrimp, pork, boiled eggs, crushed chicharon fried pork rind, fish flakes, green onions, and fried garlic.  I've had it before but it really hit home the other day, a take-out box from a casual eatery for lunch-- hearty, noodles soft and slightly sticky, saucy and flavours seafoody and comfy under a bevy of textural chicharon, onions, and garlic. As I am exploring, there are so many versions and presentation-- thin or thick clear noodles, noodles cooked in the sauce, or ladled over top like gravy, ground pork in the sauce, or cooked pork pieces and served on top, sliced eggs or wedged eggs, fish flakes sprinkled or not, addition of other seafoods... and the list goes on...

I like to do things from scratch as much as possible, but I read the merits of Mama Sita's palabok seasoning mix-- shrimp based and flavourings to make the instant sauce, and thought I'd give it a go. I cooked the shrimp shells, and used that broth for more flavour on flavour. And the resulting dish was so-O deelish, and definitely a keeper for another home meal or potluck event. So presentable, appetizing and hearty, and economical too! Some things I may do different next time (like make the noodles more passed al dente, my own shrimp gravy, add fish flakes and cook cubed pork belly in soy and vinegar), but as a first attempt which my kids can attest to... like WoW!

Such a big hearty platter, to serve a small army!

Filipino Pancit Palabok
Serves 8 to 10 as a meal (reduce ingredients in half to serve 4 to 6)

1 pack (454 g) thin or thick rice noodles (I used Super Q brand's thick cornstarch noodles), cook according to package instructions
2 Tbsp. cooking oil

3 garlic cloves, minced
4 hard boiled eggs, peeled and sliced
1 lb. shell-on shrimps, peeled, shells reserved for broth (if includes heads, even better for broth-making)
1 large red onion, chopped
1 lb. lean ground pork
2 pkgs. (57 g) Mama Sita's Palabok seasoning mix, cook according to package instructions 
½ tsp. ground black pepper
1 Tbsp. annatto seeds, sizzled in 3 Tbsp. hot oil

Topping ingredients:
chicharon (fried pork rind), crushed to small bits
green onion or scallions, finely chopped
fried garlic
wedges of lemon, lime or the authentic accompaniment sour calamansi

I love this spread of ingredients- so much flavour and textures!

Cornstarch sticks!! The first I've worked with, in my lifetime of much noodle-cooking... soak first and cook after and drain according to package instructions. 

Clear and springy...

Don't waste those flavourful shells-- too bad I didn't have shrimp heads which would have added much more flavour to the broth. Cook for about 10 minutes on medium boil and strain shells for a clear broth.

Crush those tasty chicharon fried pork rinds (comes in so many flavours- I picked up garlic and spicy with vinegar). You can make your own fried garlic by sauteing chopped garlic in some oil or buy a container.

Pat dry those shrimps after shelling, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and saute in a little oil over medium-high heat until orange and opaque, which indicates they have been cooked through. Set aside.

Follow instructions on the seasoning package, which is basically dissolving the mix in your choice of liquid-- mine would be the shrimp broth. Need about 2-1/2 cups of water for one package. I used two.

Heat your wok/skillet over medium-high heat with oil. Saute onions and garlic for about two minutes and add the pork. Cook, stirring occasionally until pork is 80% done, around three minutes.

Look at the lay of ingredients that is ready for topping and serving on palabok!

Add the sauce mix and ground black pepper into the skillet and cook for a few minutes, until boiling and thickened like gravy.

Since I used the Mama Sita seasoning, I didn't have to make the additional annatto oil for the red colouring, but I did it anyway, cooking 1 Tbsp. annatto seeds sizzled in 3 Tbsp. oil for a minute (no longer otherwise, the oil will be bitter). After adding the noodles into the gravy and coated thoroughly, I drizzled the red oil on top for a slick sheen.

Nummy! Now onto a huge serving vessel...

Getting ready for the bevy of colourful and crunchy toppings!

Wahhhh.... Voila!!!

I so want to call this Palabok Paella, especially in this ceramic Portuguese dish.

You can also serve the shrimp sauce ladled over top like gravy for a colour contrast against the white noodles. Pretty and tasty either way!

Photo Credit:

I happened to buy a bunch of cool schmool coolers at the wine and beer store. Blood Orange Mango one night...

And Pineapple Lemon the next with even tastier leftovers.... with a nose of smoky bacon.

In love with the flavours right boys? Mama' will indeed make this again...

Hair here, and hair gone the next... lol!

Friday, May 11, 2018

Eating The Rainbow on Wellness Night...

What a wonderful first year health & wellness event organized by mom Yusan Ong at Lester B Pearson last week!! A wide variety of activities including yoga, martial arts and dance workshops including but of course food! Absolutely thrilled to be a guest assisting lunch packing guru Aviva Wittenberg @avivawittenberg (check out her amazing instagram page with drool-worthy, eye-popping lunch-box creations your kids will love to eat) making yogurt dips and real fruit-infused water with the parents and kids! It was absolutely amazing and fun supporting my Willowdale community with such a wonderful healthful initiative. The success of the night sounds for a likely repeat next year! Round of applause everyone...

Aviva working her creative magic! It was seriously an eating rainbow-kind-of-night.

We eat with our eyes first, and WoW were the kids and parents alike impressed with this vibrant fresh spread!

First off Balkan-style yogurt dips-- one savoury and one sweet. Fresh mint torn into small pieces, with a splash of fresh lemon juice and a pinch of sea salt in one. And a squirt of honey in the other. Serve with their favourite dippers or mix and match to try a new flavour combo! Try apple slices in mint yogurt, or cucumber wedges in honey yogurt anyone?

Love these compostable mini bowls made of sugar cane. 

Lots of mmms and ahhhs.... The kind of enlightened sensory music we love to hear :D

Real fruit-infused water had the kids buzzing with what ingredients they wanted to personalize their take-home mason jars. We had tangy citrus, cucumber slices, mint and the selection of apples, pears and berries on the table spread. Skies the limit!

Tomatoes and carrots too, why not? Cinnamon sticks for a warm spice nose and flavour.

So inspired by Aviva's idea, I had to piggy back on it with a final parent engagement cooking class with my favourite moms. Blood oranges and citrus brightens any day, am I right? Readying them for real fruit-infused bing cherry black tea, cold with mixed berries, pomegranate seeds, cucumber slices and fresh mint! #drinkuphealth

Moms made their own customized mason jars to take home as a prelude gift for Mother's Day! So perfect! YAY! More to come from this amazing last session for the school year! 

And oh, what a SeNd Off-- just wait 'til you see and hear what we have in store... :D

Rainbow Infused Bing Cherry Black Tea

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Classic Chicken Fried Rice and Cantonese Chow Mein...

These dish requests from the moms at Fraser Mustard takes me back to my roots-- Chicken Fried Rice and Cantonese Chow Mein. Nothing beats these Chinese classics. Yum! #communitykitchen #tdsbwelcomingcommunities

Organizing the spread of ingredients and equipment for yet another fun-tastic Thursday culinary session.

Prepping all the ingredients first always to make cooking seamless and succinct. 

Chow mein is a classic noodle dish of Guangzhou and Hong Kong, with the fried noodles being the base for a mélange of stir-fried toppings. When properly cooked the noodles’ crispness resists softening, even under the multi-toppings and its sauce. I typically like my noodles, crispy on one side and soft on the other (like lo mein). See my post for more.

Truly a beautiful, customizable dish, you can add any combination of your favourite ingredients, and it's perfect for using up leftover pieces and bits in the fridge. No waste! 

Cantonese Chow Mein
Serves 6 to 8 as an entree

Flavouring sauce:
1 Tbsp. salt
2 Tbsp. sugar
1/3 cup oyster sauce
2 tsp. sesame oil
2 cups water

Chow mein:
1/2 pound chicken breast or thighs, sliced into bite size pieces
A pinch of salt
A pinch of ground white pepper
1 pound egg noodles
1/4 medium head broccoli, cut into bite-size pieces
2 celery stalks, peeled and sliced on an angle into 1/4 inch thick pieces
1 carrot, peeled and sliced into rounds
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon high heat cooking oil, such as canola, divided
2 cloves garlic, minced, divided
10 medium shrimp, shelled, deveined, rinsed and patted dry
1 green onion, cut into 2 inch pieces
8 dried shiitake mushrooms, rehydrated in cool water for four hours, rinsed and drained, or fresh shiitakes mushrooms
1 bell pepper (any colour), cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 cup sliced, canned bamboo shoots, drained and rinsed
Handful of snow peas
¼ cup cornstarch, mixed in 1/3 cup water

Whisk together all the flavouring sauce ingredients, and set aside.

In a medium size bowl, toss chicken with a pinch of salt and ground white pepper. Set aside. Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to a boil. Plunge the noodles into boiling water for 30 seconds, remove, and set aside. Blanch the broccoli, celery and carrots in the boiling water for 30 seconds, drain, and set aside.

Heat a large non-stick wok or skillet over high heat until just beginning to smoke. When hot, add 1/4 cup oil, swirling around to coat evenly. Add the noodles, and fry for three to four minutes, shaking back and forth several times, until the noodles turn golden brown. Carefully flip and repeat if desired. The outer noodles should be slightly crispy and golden, with inner noodles soft. Remove the noodles and arrange on a large serving plate.

Turn the heat down to medium-high, and add an additional 1/2 tablespoon of the oil. Add half of the minced garlic, along with the shrimp, and cook until the shrimp are cooked through and opaque, about two minutes. Remove the cooked shrimp and garlic to a plate.

Add the remaining 1/2 tablespoon oil to the wok. Add the remaining garlic, green onions, chicken, and shiitake mushrooms. Cook until the chicken is almost cooked through and opaque, about 3 to 4 minutes depending on the thickness of your pieces. Add the peppers, bamboo shoots, snow peas, and blanched vegetables and continue cooking for two minutes. Stir in the cooked shrimp and prepared flavouring sauce. Cover and let steam for 2 minutes.

After 2 minutes, uncover the wok, give it a quick stir or toss, then stir in the cornstarch mixture to thicken the sauce. The sauce will thicken very quickly. Remove from the heat as soon as it is thickened. Pour the meat and veggie mixture over the noodles. This dish is especially tasty served with chili sauce on the side.

And really the magical part is the pour- with all the beautiful colours and the glazy sauce!

Gotta pull out some noodles from underneath for a picturesque instagram-worthy shot!

For more how-to's see Cantonese Chow Mein

Next up, classic chicken fried rice with eggs, peas and bean sprouts- a timeless Chinese staple.

Classic Chicken Fried Rice (adapted from Woks of Life)
Makes 6-8 servings

1/2 lb. chicken breast, diced into ½-inch cubes
1 tsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. cornstarch
½ tsp. sesame oil
1 tsp. oil
1 Tbsp. hot water
¼ tsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. regular or light soy sauce or to taste
1 Tbsp. dark soy sauce
1 tsp. salt or to taste
white pepper, to taste
3 Tbsp. oil, divided
2 eggs, beaten
1 small onion, diced
5 cups cooked rice, leftover from night before is best
½ cup green peas, if frozen, rinse and thaw
1 cup fresh bean sprouts
1 green onion, chopped

Combine the chicken and marinade ingredients and set aside while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. Next, combine the hot water, sugar, soy sauces and white pepper in a small bowl. This is the sauce that you’ll be adding to the rice, and it’s much easier to have it combined and ready to go before you start cooking.

Take your cold leftover rice, and try to break up the clumps as best as possible. Heat the wok over medium high heat and add 1 Tbsp. of oil. Add the eggs and scramble them until just done; set aside. They will continue to cook in the bowl and you will cook them again in the rice. Heat the wok until just smoking and spread another Tbsp. oil around your wok. Sear the marinated chicken for 20 seconds. Stir-fry the chicken until about 80% done. Remove the chicken to your marinade bowl and set aside.

With the wok over medium high heat, add another tablespoon of oil and sauté the onions until translucent. Add the rice, and use your metal spatula to flatten out and break up any large clumps. Continue stir-frying until the cold rice is warmed up, which will take about 5 minutes. Sprinkling just a little water on large clumps of rice will help break them up more easily. Once the rice is warmed, add the sauce mixture and mix with a scooping motion until the rice is evenly coated with sauce. Now add the chicken, green peas and any juices from the bowl you set aside earlier and stir fry for another minute. Add the eggs, bean sprouts, and green onions, and continue stir-frying the rice for 1 minute. Serve hot.

Aromatic, and satisfying comfort for day or night!

Everyone was so happy with these dishes. Glad to demystify the techniques and ingredients on how! 

Sometimes we feel like we are cooking in and eating at a restaurant. But, the best is yet to come... :D

Monday, April 30, 2018

Cooking Up Lemony Goodness...

Lemons 🍋 evoke freshness and awakens the senses, and it's a rejuvenating flavour to invite in Spring. Even though it was cold and damp during this community kitchen cooking session, it sure felt and smelled like spring indoors with the bounty of bright yellow lemony goodness in both savoury and sweet offerings. On the menu, Greek Quinoa Salad with a lemony dill vinaigrette and Flaky Scones with Lemon Curd. We cooked and baked to our hearts' content with the busy buzz of conversations and laughter. Ahhh :D... exactly the way I dreamed our gatherings to be. Many of the moms have two or more children, and these mornings give them a little time for themselves, to socialize and learn to cook something new. To hear they look forward to this day every week, and their heart-felt gratitude for our program, it truly makes my heart sing--  I just want our sessions to go on forever! With the warmer weather we will be coupling culinary with a nice walk afterwards. A time to further digest, get some fresh air and exercise, and to get to know one another better. 

A large fresh bed of both romaine and mixed greens is topped with textured nutty grains of quinoa and a medley of crunchy colourful vegetables dressed with garlicky lemony dill. This is the perfect crowd-pleaser or potluck picnic salad to make with it's healthful Mediterranean ingredients and tasty flavours! Always a hit at my gatherings.

Greek Dill Quinoa Salad 
Makes 8 servings

3 cups hot, low-sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth
1-1/2 cups quinoa, rinsed
1/4 cup fresh dill, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/2 tsp. kosher or sea salt, more to taste
ground pepper to taste
6 cups mixed salad greens
3 cups romaine lettuce, cut into bite-size pieces
1 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
1 small English cucumber, sliced and quartered
1 small red onion, halved and very thinly sliced
1/2 cup whole pitted kalamata or black olives
sprigs of fresh dill for garnish

Heat the broth in a large saucepan placed over high heat. When it has just come to the boil, add the quinoa and stir well. Allow to return to the boil, then immediately reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes or until liquid has been absorbed. When cooked, transfer mixture to a large, shallow bowl to cool. Combine the dill, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Whisk to blend well. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.

Layer the mixed greens then romaine lettuce on a serving platter. Drizzle with half the dressing. Place all the vegetables in a large bowl; toss with the quinoa and remaining vinaigrette. Layer on top of the greens. Garnish with fresh dill and serve.

Just look at the beautiful vibrant colours and textures... 

Greek Dill Quinoa Salad

On the other side, we had the preparations of scones going on...

Tall, brown-golden, crunchy, layered and slightly chewy, the key to super flaky scones is super cold butter and folding the dough as many times possible to trap the bits of butter and create the multi-layers without over-handling. These are seriously the best scones ever!!

Basic Best-Ever Flaky Scones (Baker and Scone recipe)
Makes 16 scones

3-¼ cups all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp. baking powder
1/2 cup unsalted butter (chill in freezer for 10-15 minutes)
1/2 cup sugar
¼ tsp. salt
1 cup half and half cream
1/3 cup buttermilk (make your own by mixing 1/3 cup milk and 1 Tbsp. white vinegar)
2 tsp. vanilla
1 lemon, zested
turbinado sugar for sprinkling
serve with lemon curd

Preheat oven to 415F. Combine in a large bowl - flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. Zest lemon directly into a bowl. Stir with a whisk to evenly incorporate. Grate the cold butter into the flour mixture. Toss in the butter well.

Mix cream and buttermilk together, and add vanilla. Add the cream mixture to flour mixture and knead very gently just until dough holds together. Pat out onto counter dusted with flour and fold over, then gently knead and repeat a few times. Cut into half, then each into 8s, and place spaced on baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush tops with cream and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 16-18 minutes. TIP: For a crustier top crust, broil on high for one minute to brown-golden.

Kneading and folding for extra flakiness. Photo Credit: Fathima

How can we have a batch of scones without lemon curd? This homemade recipe is super easy and creates such a luscious perky lemon filling with just the right balanced tart to sweetness- it really is impossible to resist! They are perfect little jars to gift and can be refrigerated for up to five days.

Homemade Lemon Curd (adapted from Chatelaine)
Makes about 2 cups (double the ingredients for double the batch size)

3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 eggs, at room temperature
3 egg yolks, at room temperature
1/8 tsp. salt
2/3 cup lemon juice (juice from about 3-4 lemons)

Beat sugar with butter, eggs, yolks and salt in a medium saucepan with an electric mixer on high, until creamy, about one minute. Beat in lemon juice. (Mixture may curdle but will smooth out during cooking.) Set saucepan over medium-high. Cook, whisking constantly, until curd is thickened and smooth. It should coat the back of a spoon, about three to five minutes.

We doubled the lemon curd recipe to fill little mason jars for each mom to take home. 

These ladies loved the perky lemon freshness. Each bite was met with ooohs, ahhhs and mmmms...

Beyond delicious, lemons really wakens up all the senses 🍋🍋🍋.

Mom Fathima made up these exact gorgeous delectable scones to serve with our take-home community kitchen-made lemon curd. These kind of sharing forward makes me so-O happy :D. Thank you so much for sending and sharing!

Photo Credit: Fathima

Photo Credit: Fathima

Mom Athira makes the Greek Dill Quinoa, and her family loved it! Beautiful and très colourful. YAY!

Photo Credit: Athira

More lemony goodness, cause you know I had to make something for my family too... I love this Luscious Lemon Poppy Seed Loaf-- the tangy citrus syrup that seeps into this pretty loaf creates a seductively divine taste. It's delicious served with a pot of tea and to give as a hostess gift! To me, this is one of those baked goods you savour slowly, letting your mind drift while enjoying life's simple pleasures 🍋...

Luscious Poppy Seed Loaf

Next up, we are heading back to my Chinese roots with chicken fried rice and Cantonese chow mein. And weather permitting, we are taking that happy stroll...