Goodbye, Summer. Hello, Diet.

I’m giving my liver a break. For the last month, my diet has consisted mostly of meat, starches and beer. Being a huge veggie lover, I can feel that my body is not happy with me.

At the beginning of our camping trip, Mike and I agreed to make a conscious effort to eat healthy.  We were actually quite good about not buying any junk food on the road and were constantly eating fruit and were successfully avoiding fast food chains. But later on, the healthy eating was slowly overcome by the festivities of summer and we just ate like everyday was a holiday.  It also didn’t help that camping food usually equates to grilling lots of red meat and eating s’mores.

So after 28 meat-filled days, I am going on a vegetarian break. No meat, dairy, salt, sugar, oil, and alcohol for at least 3 days. My diet will consist only of fresh fruits, vegetables and beans. As of 12:46PM today, all I’ve had is one carrot, one small cucumber, a banana, a few slices of pineapple and a cup of cooked mongo beans. I do miss the meat but I know my body will thank me after the three days are over.

Today's breakfast : Pineapple, cucumber and banana

In the meantime, let me take you on a visual tour of some of things that I ate during my North American holiday.

Costco steaks are the shiznit!

At our favorite Japanese restaurant, Akasaka where the rolls are humongous.

Portobello Mushroom sandwich and sweet potato curry soup from McMenamins. Unforgettable meal right there!

Oyster stew with foie gras butter. Extremely delicious and sinful!

Steak dinner at our hotel room in Whistler.

Fried pickles from Hooters! These came with wings, of course 🙂

My sister's turkey dumplings and siomai. Sooooo good and actually healthy 🙂

Uploading all these photos made me hungry. Now, where’s that carrot….

*all photos taken with Instagram

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I’ll Be Back.

For the next three weeks, I’m going to be on the road, traveling from California to Vancouver. I might not be able to get a proper post in while I’m on the road so you’ll have to forgive me for being quiet. In the meantime, here are some photos of where I’ve been cooking for the last few days…

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The Family Room

From my sister's kitchen.

Whenever my sister asks me what I want to do during my US visit, I say, “Nothing.”  Forget all the touristy places, all I really want to do is catch up with family.

My sister's toddlers.

My brother's youngest.

My brother's eldest, long boarding and growing up too fast.

In my family, catching up means lingering in the kitchen and exchanging stories over home-made food. Cooking comes second nature to all of us so it is natural that we convene in a place where we are all comfortable in. I find so much joy in watching my siblings prepare their own specialties. I am currently entertained by my brother’s cupcake making skills.

My brother, in his kitchen, making red velvet cupcakes. His are a lot better than mine.

My sister in law, Corina's coffee cupcakes!

Being in the kitchen is also bittersweet as it makes me wish that my Mom and Dad were here. I can imagine my Mom hovering over everyone’s pot, giving unsolicited culinary advice, while my Dad would pick from all the plates, telling his tall tales. Mom is the original head chef in the family and Dad was always the willing sous chef. I know it made them extremely happy to see everyone gather around food that they’ve made.

Daddy and Mommy, the original cooks in the family

Sinigang, everyone's favorite Filipino food!

So when I’m here, I don’t bother to make plans to go to tourist attractions. Where else can we have the best Filipino food, have the kids run around freely and be as loud as we want to be? The kitchen is all we need to make us feel at home.

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Quality Time and Quality Eats

Salad ingredients sans the lemon

Since I arrived in California, I’ve been preoccupied with only two things – family and myself. I am loving every moment of my slow-paced holiday as I catch up with my brother, sister and all their kids. I could not be happier about being here and am filled with gratitude and contentment.

I am also thrilled that I am able to focus on myself. I’ve been catching up on sleep (aka jet lag), eating healthily and working out. I am happy to report that I have already logged in two runs and intend to work out five times a week. Since there isn’t any work to do, I don’t see why it can’t be done. I am also making a conscious effort to try to eat as much fresh fruits and vegetables as possible.

Speaking of healthy eats, have you tried eating quinoa? Quin-what, you say? Quinoa is a grain that originates from South America. It looks a lot like couscous but has a different texture. Unlike couscous, it is not filled with starch and is in fact, very high in protein. I made a quinoa salad yesterday to accompany my sister’s fried fish and it was absolutely delicious! It’s always a delight to discover such delicious and simple food and I’ve been very excited to share it with everyone. So here it is…

Quinoa salad with fish. Yum!

Quinoa Salad

1 cup, cooked quinoa 
2 medium tomatoes, diced
1 medium red onion, diced
3 tbsp. chopped parsley
fresh lemon juice, according to taste
1 tbsp. lemon zest
2 tbsp. olive oil
salt and pepper
 
Combine all ingredients ingredients in a bowl and refrigerate. I find that the longer it marinates, the more delicious it becomes.
 
This salad can be eaten on its own or as a side dish. 

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Pass It On: Jamie Oliver’s Beef and Ale Stew

Jamie’s (Oliver) Food Revolution is one of my favorite cookbooks. Other than the recipes, I support his advocacy to educate more people about healthy cooking and eating. In this day and age where fast food dining has become an unhealthy habit, it is important to give people better options. Jamie Oliver’s plan reads,

“I need you to get personally involved in pass it on by pledging to learn just one recipe from each chapter of this book. Master these in your own home first, and then pass it on by teaching at least two people (preferably four) how to cook them, too.  Make it fun by having a bit of a cooking party where you teach your friends, family, and other guests some brilliant new skills in the comfort of your own home. Then, most importantly, you need to get your guests to promise that they’ll pass it on to more people and get those people to pass it on and on and on… It’s easy.”

So as a way of participating in his advocacy, I would like to pass on the recipe for a beef and ale stew. I followed Jamie’s basic stew recipe but made some minor modifications as well. It is a simple and delicious recipe that can make anyone feel like a pro in the kitchen. You will easily learn to love this recipe which, I hope you will share and pass on.

A page from Jamie's Food Revolution. I tried to copy the photos it didn't quite turn out the same 😛

Jamie Oliver’s Beef and Ale Stew Recipe

3 fresh or dried bay leaves
1 pound diced stewing beef
2 cups brown ale, Guiness or stout
2 stalks celery
2 medium onions
2 carrots
olive oil
1 heaped tablespoon all purpose flour
1 14 ounce can of diced tomatoes
salt and pepper
 
If using the oven to cook your stew, preheat it to 350 degrees F. Trim the ends off your celery and roughly chop the stalks. Peel and roughly chop the onions. Peel the carrots. slice lengthways, and roughly chop. Put a Dutch oven in medium heat. Put all the vegetables and your chosen herb into the pan with 2 lugs of olive oil and fry for 10 minutes. 
 
 
Add your meat and flour. 
 
 
Pour in the booze and canned tomatoes.
 
 
 
Give it a good stir, then season with a teaspoon of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Bring it to a boil, put the lid on, and either simmer slowly on your cooktop or cook in an oven for 3 hours. Remove the lid for the final half hour of simmering and cooking and add a splash of water if it looks a bit dry. When done, your meat should be tender and delicious. Remove any bay leaves or herb stalks before serving, and taste it to see if it needs a bit more salt and pepper. 
 

It tastes better than it looks, I promise 🙂

 

Sign Jamie’s petition.

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Reality (and) Bites

Yesterday was an interesting day. I met Martin, a friend that Mike made on a dive trip to Palau. Martin was in transit and had 10 hours to kill in Manila. Martin is one of the most open-minded people I have ever met. From the moment we shook hands, I instantly felt his genuine interest to get to know me and the nonexistence of judgement. It seems that that is a trait common to travelers who are so used to, and almost impervious to cultural differences. It is something that I admire in people and wish to emulate. The few hours that we got to spend with Martin were so enjoyable and refreshing and I truly hope to cross paths with him again.

Mike, Martin and LT, catching up in Manila

I told Martin that I thought he was lucky to be able to travel so much. He smiled and replied, “I’m not lucky. It’s just good karma.”

Today, on the other hand was not so great. It was my first full day at home and I did not get the lazy day I was hopping for. Instead, I did errands from the  couch and managed to stress myself out silly. Dealing with a bank, an airline and an embassy (find complete account of embassy ordeal here) put an emphasis on the reality that I am, in fact, a grown up. Reality bit me pretty hard today.

I tried distracting my distraught self by writing blog entries and cooking, as usual. I’ve had a bag of french beans waiting to be made into a salad so for a good 15 minutes, that’s all I did. There’s nothing like some quiet time in the kitchen to soothe one’s worried soul.

So here’s to new friends, simple food and hopefully, approved visas. Tomorrow will bring better things, I am sure.

French Bean Salad Dressing

2 tbsp. deli mustard 
2 tbps. white wine vinegar
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. Japanes mayonnaise (or any good mayo)
salt and pepper
your choice of fresh or dried herbs
 
Toss dressing with blanched french beans. Serve chilled. 

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Easy Green Shrimp Curry

I don’t like shrimp. I’m not allergic to it, I just don’t like the taste and texture. The only time I can eat shrimp is when it’s completely disguised as something else, like tempura. Oh, and shrimp cocktail. I can eat that. Any other shrimp dish you put in front of me just ends up in the doggy dish.

But last Saturday, as I was walking around the weekend market, I chose to look out for something other than our usual purchases and ended up with a half a kilo of shrimp. I try not to be a selfish cook so I surrendered to the idea of having to ingest my least favorite seafood. There’s always a can of tuna in the pantry, in case things don’t go well. At home, I had a few stalks of lemongrass so it seemed like it was the perfect time to make curry paste. So shrimp curry it was.

I combined some coriander, garlic, green chillies, ginger, red onion, and lemongrass in a food processor hoping that this would quickly give me a green curry paste. The result was nothing paste-like but more like a mirepoix of some sort. I had a feeling that this wouldn’t hold as my curry’s base so I pulled out some green curry paste just in case.

Although I don’t eat shrimp. I know better than to throw it’s head and shells away. So I gathered all the heads and shells, fired up a small pot and made some shrimp stock. With this, I added some of my lemongrass mirepoix and within a few minutes, the kitchen was filled with a wonderful aroma, very reminiscent of tinolang manok. The result was a flavorful stock that, if combined with some tom yum powder, would have been the perfect soup dish. But we’ll save that for another day.

In a separate pot, I sauteed what was left of my lemongrass mirepoix with a little oil. 5 minutes later, I added my sliced eggplant, shrimp stock, 1/2 cup of coconut milk and about 3 tablespoons of the green curry paste. On a low flame, I allowed this mixture to simmer until the eggplant was cooked. I noticed that when you stew eggplant long enough, the meat separates from the skin and actually acts as a thickening agent. I personally like this but some people might prefer the eggplant not overcooked.

After simmering for about 20 minutes, add some chopped cauliflower and the shelled shrimp. Boil for no more than 2 minutes or until the shrimp turns pink. Overcooking your shrimp will make it turn rubbery so be careful. Turn the heat off and add about a cup of basil leaves into the curry. It will add a nice, fresh flavor to a very spicy dish.

Serve it with a side dish of pickled cucumbers.

If you’re wondering if I ate the shrimp curry, I did. I took one bite of the succulent shrimp and then almost instantly started fishing for the shrimp in my bowl, knowing that there’s was no way I could eat it. The sauce was delicious, but there’s just no way I could take the shrimp without gagging. Sorry, food. I was still happy with just the curry sauce, eggplant and cauliflower but I think Mike was secretly ecstatic that he had all the shrimp to himself.

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