Is olive oil essential to a good pasta dish?

Is olive oil essential to a good pasta dish?

Last Friday, hours before Alex was due home for the weekend, I texted her to ask what she wanted for dinner and she said, “Pasta.” Knowing how much she loves pesto, I prepared a simple pasta dish with bacon and pesto. She loved it.

Having had her fill of pasta, I thought that she’s ask for something else before she went back to the condo in the city on Sunday. How wrong I was. She asked for pasta once more. The girl is a serious pasta lover, I tell you.

I wondered what kind of pasta dish I was going to prepare but she had already written the recipe inside her head. The sauce would be a combination of tomato sauce and pesto. Easy enough, I thought. Then, I discovered that we were out of olive oil. How in heaven’s name was I going to make tomato sauce? I weighed my options and decided that bacon fat and butter would have to do. The result was a resounding success. [Read more...] Boracay food trip, part 3: Dos Mestizos

Boracay food trip, part 3: Dos Mestizos

It was Dos Mestizos’ mojito that came highly recommended and the original plan was to go there one night after dinner. But, when on vacation, plans are never set in stone and, after discovering that a new Chinese restaurant had no chef and was closed for lunch, we went to Dos Mestizos for lunch instead.

Thinking that lunch at Dos Mestizos would be more of a “happy hour” affair than a regular meal, I was quite prepared to crawl on all fours back to the hotel. Figuratively speaking, of course. But, surprise! I had only two mojitos and two glasses of sangria because I was more focused on the food than the drinks. The food was that good.

Dos Mestizos serves full meals but we agreed to order tapas with our drinks. We chose the tapas and, while waiting, we enjoyed the most refreshing sangria I have ever tasted.

For those unfamiliar with the terms, tapas are appetizers or snacks in Spanish cuisine typically accompaniments for drinks. Sangria is a drink made with wine (red, usually, hence the name) and fruits and, sometimes, brandy.

The mojito did not disappoint. Made with fresh limes and mint leaves, it was every inch as good as our friend who recommended it had promised.

But it was the tapas that really made my day. [Read more...] Stir fried noodles with brandied pork and vegetables

Stir fried noodles with brandied pork and vegetables

What’s with the brandied pork? I discovered I was out of rice wine but I had promised Alex a stir fried noodle dish and I intended to deliver with panache. Brandy was what I had, so, brandy it was that I added to the meat. Worked beautifully.

Why not ditch the alcohol altogether? Because alcohol adds a richness to a dish that cannot be replicated by any other ingredient. That’s why the French and the Italians cook their food with wine, and why Chinese stir fries almost always includes a splash or two of rice wine.

But doesn’t alcohol leave a bitter taste in the food? I’ve written a post about cooking with alcohol a while back so I wouldn’t have to repeat myself every time alcohol is listed among the ingredients. The answers to frequently asked questions are there including whether the alcohol burns off during cooking (and a link to a table that outlines the percentage of the alcohol retained) and what happens to the calories in the alcohol. [Read more...] Brandy Alexander

Brandy Alexander

Just who the Alexander is for whom the drink was named is a mystery. There are at least three claimants to the honor, one of them being Alexander II of Russia, great-grandfather of Anastasia whom everyone in Generation Y is familiar with because of the 1997 animated musical fantasy.

A classic among classics, Brandy Alexander is a cocktail drink made with equal parts of brandy, dark creme de cacao and cream, and dusted with nutmeg before serving.

I have no idea why the Brandy Alexander is often associated with sophistication; I don’t even know what separates a “sophisticated” drink from the rest. But it is undoubtedly a good and highly popular drink and I can guess why. It evokes sensations of warmth and comfort — sweet, chocolatey, and strong but smooth — and it is so easy to make. Just pour all the liquid ingredients into a glass, stir and top with grated nutmeg.

Brandy Alexander figures in many films, books and TV shows, including a scene in an episode in the second season of the sitcom The Big Bang Theory, a favorite of both Speedy and Sam. [Read more...] Boracay food trip, part 2: Nami Resort Restaurant

Boracay food trip, part 2: Nami Resort Restaurant

There are three very good reasons to visit Nami Resort Restaurant in Boracay — good food, fantastic view and good food. Yes, food has to count twice because the most breathtaking view cannot make up for bad food. Nami has the most wonderful view but the food is even better.

Where is Nami? It sits on the hill on the far end of Boracay — the side where Station 1 is but farther to the edge of the island. From Estacio Uno where we were staying, we hired two tricycles (there were six of us, all women lawyers) to get to Nami. It was sunny when we left Estacio Uno, we were wearing our pretty summer attires but, between Estacio Uno and Nami, it poured like the dickens, and we were soaked. It didn’t matter. We were having fun, we were on a food adventure and getting soaked was a minor inconvenience. [Read more...] Pasta with sardines in brandied tomato sauce

Pasta with sardines in brandied tomato sauce

I’m a deconstructionist. A what? A deconstructionist. Maybe there’s no real word like that but that’s the most illustrative I could come up with. It means I experience something, I take it apart mentally then I put it back together to create my version.

Of course, I’m talking about food. I go and eat at a restaurant and when I like a dish, I let my tongue, nose and eyes analyze what the ingredients are and how they were cooked together. Then, when I get home, I cook something similar. Not an exact replica but something inspired by the original.

Most of the time, I make a pretty good job of deconstructing. It is Sam who never misses. She can tell what herbs and spices are in a dish even if they have been chopped or ground so finely that they are no longer discernible individually. But now that she’s a vegetarian, I can’t ask for her help in deconstructing non-vegetarian dishes.

This pasta with sardines in brandied tomato sauce is inspired by the glorious pasta al fume at Aria Cucina Italiana in Boracay. The sauce was made with fresh tomatoes and, of course, brandy.

How did the pasta turn out? Let me put it this way. Speedy isn’t a huge fan of pasta but he had two helpings. Can there be a better testament to how good this pasta dish is? I think not. [Read more...] Soft tofu and pechay soup

Soft tofu and pechay soup

When I cooked the pechay guisado last week, I reserved the dark green leaves of the pechay for a vegetarian soup. In an attempt to tweak the depth of flavor, instead of using salt, I switched to a mixture of soy sauce and salt to season the broth. It was a new technique for me because I’ve always associated soy sauce with stir fries and stews, never for soups. If soy sauce had to go into a soup at all, it would be as a condiment served on the side.

And just what prompted me to season the broth partly with soy sauce? Well, ramen is sometimes served with broth flavored with ponzu sauce which is a mixture of soy sauce and citrus juice. I’ve always loved ramen with a ponzu based, so, why not soy sauce in a tofu soup? [Read more...] Boracay food trip, part 1: Aria Cucina Italiana

Boracay food trip, part 1: Aria Cucina Italiana

Until last weekend, I never really liked Boracay. My experience of the island had mostly been huge crowds, sweltering heat and bad shopping. It turned out that there is a right time to visit Boracay to really appreciate it. Never go in the summer; rather, go off-season when the weather is friendlier and the crowds are thinner. I just came home yesterday after spending a long weekend in the island and I loved every moment of it.

Not a lot of people go to the beach during the Habagat season when the southwest winds blow, the weather is often humid and rains fall in torrents. But the September Boracay trip with friends from U.P. College of Law was planned and paid for as early as February and, despite the threat that it might rain non-stop, we went. It did rain occasionally but that was a benefit rather than a drawback because every rainfall cooled the air and lolling by the sea sipping mojitos and piña coladas became the ultimate pleasure there could ever be.

And then there was the food. We walked, we took tricycle rides, rode on scary lifts and hopped over puddles to get to where the good food was. And we feasted. [Read more...] Pechay guisado

Pechay guisado

Revisiting one of the earliest recipes I’ve posted. The original pechay guisado recipe (relocated to page two of this post) was published on May 1, 2003, the photo looks terrible but the dish is just as good today as it was eleven years ago. Of course, I’ve done some improvements to the recipe. And I have better photos too.

For non-Filipinos, guisado means sauteed but, in context, think of it more in terms of the French mirepoix (holy trinity of onion, celery and carrot), the Spanish sofrito (the Italian spelling is soffritto) or the German suppengrün.

Guisado in the Philippines means that the meat and vegetables were cooked in a spice base which may consist of garlic, onion, tomatoes and ginger.

Pechay is a native variety of cabbage similar to the Chinese bok choy. There is a post about Chinese cabbages that illustrates the visual differences among bok choy, pak choi and wombok and reading that will best explain the nature of pechay.

For this new version of pechay guisado, I used only the lower portion of the pechay leaves — the white stalks basically because they hold up better in the intense heat and a little of the leaves for visual contrast. [Read more...]