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The Theoretical Cook


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Birthday Party

Celebrated a joint birthday party with one of my best friends. I prepared the dishes, with the help of my friends, and he prepared the drinks. My best offering was an adaptation of Martha Stewarts phyllo pastry with spinach and feta cheese - great appetizer. Best drink prepared was cosmopolitan, with cointreau, cranberry juice, etc.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Taste Blind

For over a year, I lived in a suitcase, or make that several bags, shuttling to and from one city to another. I lived in three different homes simultaneously. Then one day I wake up and find me in another bed, another house, without my German knives, a few of my favorite cookbooks left, and a lifetime of cooking memories. And because I didnt have my favorite knives, I stopped cooking.
The cooking universe evolved to reach a state where it revolved around only one person, and the person is gone. And so did the raison d'etre for the cooking exercise. How can something which began as therapy quickly become associated with something equally traumatizing as the incident that one sought to recover from? Life is like that it seems, we hurtle from one drama to another. And sometimes, in our utter lack of judgment, and in expectation of sympathy, we reveal details about ourselves that we really shouldn't. Drama leads to a lot of vulgarity, vulgarity being the desperate revelation of ourselves.
Cooking as an act of love? Or cooking as a mask to conceal the absence of feeling? Like other daily routines that conceal the hollowness of moribund relationships. I cook, therefore I love.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Paris Supermarche

There's a book about the epicurean delights in Paris. I never got to read it; I just saw it in a bookstore in Amsterdam after I had already left the city. Of course, my primary 'guide' to Paris was Adam Gopnik's book - this explains why I trudged all the way to the Rue St. Germain so as not to skip the Brasserie Lipp, the Deux Magots, and the Cafe Flore. It was also Gopnik's ruminations that made me linger in the Luxembourg Gardens, truly magical with the leaves and the dappled sunlight. Looking at a baby girl running around the fountain, chasing the little ducks in the water, I felt I understood why Gopnik felt the need to raise his baby in Paris. It is a beautiful place. I think the only thing that balances out my enthusiasm for the place is the fact that I stayed in the 19th Arrondisement which, to a certain extent, is pretty much like Manila.

My generic travel guide also pointed out the following foody places, and I made sure I did not miss them: Berthillon (for the best ice cream), Amorino (for the best gelato), and Marche Montorgueil for the gastronomic shops. In the end, however, the nicest places were those that I stumbled on my own: 1) Godiva (while walking along Rue St Honore); 2) Jean Paul Hevin (for the photogenic chocolates); 3) Cafe Rotana (for providing a warm warm place to a cold cold girl). The neighborhood patisserie where I bought my daily baguette was also something else, and the fact that it was open until almost midnight made it even better. In fact, if there's one thing that I learned from my five days in the city, it's really developing a taste for this baguette. The baguette, especially when freshly baked, is such a source of comfort- something about the hard crust and the soft dough.

The funny thing is that while in Paris, I cooked myself (and my Indian host who immediately left for Bordeaux leaving me to fend for myself) Asian dinners everyday. I went to a Chinese supermarche, upon the advice of my host, to buy green vegetables, Japanese noodles, and other stuff. After a day of sightseeing and eating bread and other strange food combinations, there was comfort in going 'home' and cooking a hot dinner of rice and noodles and vegetables.

Oh, and my first meal in Paris was in an Italian pizzeria. :)

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Chinese Buffet for Lunch in Salzburg

My first meal in Austria was in a Chinese restaurant in the tourist area. It was a 7-euro buffet, with sparkling apple juice. I was with an American law professor, and he gave the 3-euro tip. I said - "Oh thanks, Im not even going to attempt to contribute." I wasnt going to insist since the guy was gazillions of years older. The meal was a disappointment but someone said that 7 euros was a cheap price to pay for a buffet lunch. Tell that to a skeptical Pinoy.
The viands comprised of the following: fried chicken wings, chopsuey with chicken fillet, chopsuey with beef sirloin, and what looked suspiciously like pancit guisado. There was something like Yang Chow fried rice. The Chinese food in this sorry restaurant is light years away from the fast food offerings of our local Luk Yuen. I am no fan of Luk Yuen, but their meals are of the imperial gourmet sort compared to the greasy inventions of the Chinese restaurant here.
Who died and decided that was Chinese fare anyway?
The reason why we ended up in a Chinese restaurant was because after two straight meals of lufthansa economy class plane offerings, without rice, I was dying for my usual carbo. I was dying for rice. And even the sumptuous smell of the Austrian bakeries did nothing to dissuade me from hunting for rice. We had two choices: the Japanese eatery or the Chinese restaurant. The buffet sounded more tempting so we went there. The lack of people should have warned us that we weren't going to be happy with the place.
I should post a picture soon. I have not done anything yet except take pictures.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Typhoon Aftermath

This is another one of those non-foodie posts.

I will not forget: GMA looked like something from The Devil Wears Prada when she made the rounds after the typhoon. She wore this red outfit. I know she has a fashion consultant and all. But really, to wear this after the typhoon and to ask the Malacanang press corps to cover her in this outfit, tsk....

Squid Rings

These are the squid rings for Eka girl. She expressly requested squid. She could've asked for anything but she asked for squid. We were only too happy to oblige her. And since she's Jakartan, I had to make sure that the squid was hot enough to suit her palate. She loved this appetizer. It must be the garlic powder....

Squid Rings


1 kg squid, sliced
1 cup cornstarch
garlic powder
black pepper
5 pcs green chilis
garlic, slivered

1) Mix the cornstarch, garlic powder (to taste), some salt, and a pinch of black pepper.
2) Dredge the squid slices in this cornstarch mixture.
3) Heat oil. (For deep frying)
4) When oil is very hot, drop the squid slices. Be careful to lift out the squid slices since the squid gets rubbery when overcooked.
5) Set aside the squid slices.
6) In another pan, saute some garlic and green chili. When garlic turns a little brown, add the cooked squid slices.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Xangsane's Wrath

International Code: Xangsane - but she was called Typhoon Milenya in the Philippines. An apt name - Milenya was the strongest typhoon I've seen in years. IWhile was safely tucked inside a tall building, I had full view of the Manila Bay and I saw the wind lashing about from the glassed terrace. At one point, I went down the parking lot in the 3rd floor and I had to stay close to the walls because the winds were too strong, I felt like I would be lifted outside. The wind was actually hooting, or whistling, or whatever you may call the high-frequency sound. And everywhere you looked, there were plastic cellophane and other light debris whirling around, tossed by the furious wind. It went on for hours, it seemed like it would never stop. After a while, Nature started to look sinister to me.

Afterwards, they declared a state of calamity. No one expected the extent of Milenya's power. Or maybe the people at the atmospheric agency did, but never really told anyone. It wasn't your usual rainy typhoon; it was a windy one. At around 3 30PM the typhoon slowly left the capital and headed somewhere else. In its wake, it uprooted hundreds of trees (some centuries old), toppled billboards along EDSA ( creating traffic jams), caused massive power outage, and well, basically f-ed up life in the city.

I went to the office this morning and there was no water, no electricity. Obviously no Internet. And I had to finish some stuff. SO I was forced to do my work elsewhere. In the afternoon I attended a seminar and less than 1/4 of the target participants were there. Everyone was at home, busy taking care of the aftermath of the disaster in their respective homes.

Meanwhile, last night, I was so hungry. There was no food to be cooked in the pantry. I tried calling the delivery lines - Yellow Cab, Taps, Pizza Hut, Tapa King, even Mc Donalds and Jollibee. I was desperate for some grub. To no avail - no delivery in the wake of Milenya. I was forced to make do with the stuff left in the fridge. So here's the Milenya recipe, for when there's nothing left in the pantry or fridge, and youre desperate to have dinner, and there's nowhere to go:

Typhoon Chicken Hotdog

8 pcs chicken hotdogs, sliced (bite size pcs)
cornstarch powder
garlic powder
tomato sauce
onion, sliced
garlic, slivered
black pepper, ground


1) Combine 1 cup of cornstarch with a pinch of black pepper and some garlic powder
2) Dredge the hotdog slices in the cornstarch mixture
3) Heat oil
4) Fry the hotdog pcs in the oil
5) Set aside

1) Saute garlic and onion
2) Add the celery
3) Add the tomato sauce (I used this left-over fancy Bravo tomato-garlic sauce used for dipping cause there was nothing else)
4) When done, pour over the chicken hotdog pieces.

Have fun eating this with no electricity, no water, and with the howling wind.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006


Bulalo is god's gift to Filipinos.

There was a time when we traveled all the way up to Tagaytay to eat bulalo in the Mahogany market, next to the slaughterhouse. The idea is that - well, the meat has got to be fresh because the eatery is right next to the slaughterhouse. For a long time we endured the stench of meat while eating bulalo because we thought that authentic bulalo had to be served in that sort of environment. I learned this theory from the expert: watch where the taxi drivers or tricycle drivers eat because that's where real good food is.

Sometimes this theory fails completely. In cooking school, my chef instructor asked me: what makes good food/ food good?
"When it is cheap?" I ventured.
"No Ms. A, " He retorted. "Good food has nothing to do with cheapness! Good food is about good quality. And quality comes at a price!" And he then proceeded into a detailed account of how he prepares a simple meal for himself by sandwiching good ham and plum tomatoes and fresh lettuce leaves between two slices of excellent wheat bread. "With real Dijon mustard sauce, of course!" He said.
My other chef teacher, on the other hand, mooned over spending hard earned cash to buy caviar at Santis. Then he relayed how glorious portobello mushrooms can be when baked with fish.

But I am getting off tangent, as usual. The point is that I always thought that good food had to be part of the local landscape, so I remained skeptical about my instructors' exaggerations about 'foreign' food. However, I remain a willing student and every once in a while, I indulge in whimsical recipes but I remain a staunch fan of local recipes.

Anyway, I was talking about the journeys we used to take for the love of bulalo. Then one day, while touring guests, we ended up at Cecilles in Tagaytay, one of those restaurants lined up along the ridge. And good god, the bulalo was heaven on earth. All memories of the mahogany market bulalo got buried by the incredible taste of Cecilles' bulalo meat. What on earth where we doing in the market all these years? When Cecilles sold infinitely better bulalo for just a little more?

Bulalo is one of the easiest beef soups ever. My version is a little more fancy because its being cooked for a sick person. (See my nilaga recipe) Its just really like nilaga except I used fancier cuts with the requisite bone marrow.

So here it is, my bulalo.


1 kg beef shanks
celery, stalks only
carrots, sliced
onion, sliced
pechay leaves, sliced
potatoes, diced
black pepper
bay leaves

1) Boil the beef shanks. Throw away the water/ or skim the surface until water becomes clear.
2) Boil the beef pieces in new water. Add some black pepper and salt to the water.
3) Add the carrot, onions, and celery to flavor the simmering beef stock.
4) Leave for 2 hours, checking every once in a while to see that there's still plenty of water.
5) Add the corn.
6) When corn is tender, add the pechay leaves.
7) Serve immediately.


Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Book Review: Crawfish Dreams by Nancy Rawles

Crawfish Dreams is the second novel in a trilogy. The first novel, which I haven't read, is entitled - Love Like Gumbo. I was in the bookstore and the title piqued my interest. So, I read the blurb in back cover - "For forty years Camille Broussard has cooked for other people.....Now its 1984 and she's determined to cook for herself. She'll pickle okra, sell meat pies at church, peddle pralines."
Then just to check whether the novel was really worth buying, I read the opening paragraph: "Ambition, like love, needs the light of day to flourish. If driven underground, it becomes mangled and distended."
Hmn, I liked the mangled and distended part so....I went home with the Crawfish Dreams of Mrs Broussard.
There is this genre of foody novels/autobios that I am currently exploring. I am sure that there's an entire listing of this particular literature somewhere - but I noticed it for the first time when I read that Mexican extravaganza Like Water For Chocolate. The 'genre' may be described as follows: its a tight narrative interwoven with recipes, with the recipes forming an essential part of the story (like milestones). So in the plot, usually linear, the rising/falling points are marked by distinct recipes. In Laura Esquivel's Like Water for Chocolate, for instance, there's the recipe consisting of rose petals that aroused desire and longing in everyone, and the chapter ended with one of the sisters passionately entangled with some guerilla in some makeshift shower room (?). In Ruth Reichl's Comfort me with Apples, she marked her separation from her husband by cooking comfort soup. And the recipes for this cooking efforts are written completely (with tips), as though taken from a cookbook page.
Rawles' Crawfish follows this tradition. I can't say much for the narrative, I started feeling sleepy at one point, exhausted at the thought of Mrs Broussard baking hundreds of pies to make money - but the recipes were rather interesting.
The remarkable recipes include this one, which I hope to cook as soon as I get hold of a crawfish:

Camille's Seafood Gumbo and Crawfish Tails
serves 12

1/2 stick butter
4 medium size onions, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 each medium size red, yellow, orange, and green peppers (seeded and diced fairly small)
1/2 cup canned tomato puree
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 pound fresh okra, stems removed and cut into 1/4 inch rounds
1 1/2 quarts fish stock
3 pounds medium size tiger prawns, shelled and deveined
1 bound bay scallops
12 fresh oysters, shucked and drained
1/2 pound fresh lump crabmeat, picked over for shells and cartilage
1 pound crawfish tails
1 1/2 tablespoons file powder
3 each medium size ripe red and yellow tomatoes, diced

In a huge, heavy pot, melt your butter over moderate heat, then add onions, garlic, and bell peppers, and cook, stirring for 5 minutes. Add your tomato puree, thyme, bay leaves, salt and pepper, stir well, and let simmer 10 minutes.
Add your okra and cook 5 minutes longer. Add your stock, bring to a rolling boil, then reduce the heat to moderate. Add the prawns, scallops, oysters, crabmeat,a nd crawfish tails, stir and simmer for 15 minutes. In a bowl, mix your file poweder with 1 cup of gumbo broth. Remove your pot from the heat and stir in your file with the fresh tomatoes. Stir until thickened.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Shabu-shabu with beef sukiyaki slices

WHO doesn't like beef soup in all its incarnations? But who has the time for the slow cooking required to make that delicious beef soup?

This is a good 'beef' soup substitute to the 'nilaga' when you don't really have the luxury of time to prepare beef soup. The stock is essentially 'dashi' powder. Take care not to do what I did though - which was to put too much dashi - as the powder leaves a strange chemical taste in the mouth.

1/4 kg beef sukiyaki slices
1/4 kg shiitake mushrooms (sliced)
4 pcs of tofu (hard)
2 bundles mustard leaves (sliced)
leeks (white part only)
2 sachets of dashi powder

1) Boil 3 L of water then add dashi. Add the onion slices
2) Add the beef sukiyaki slices to the boiling dashi mixture.
3) Add the sliced shiitake. Let simmer for a while (10 minutes)
4) Add the leeks.
5) Add the sliced tofu.
6) Add the mustard leaves.
7) Serve when the leaves have become tender.


Dont use mustard leaves.... Better to use pechay or chinese cabbage. The mustard has a bitter, tart flavor which doesnt go well with beef.
Oh, and one of these days, I'll gather the courage to make that famous Vietnamese beef soup favorite. Just you wait.

Friday, September 22, 2006

What they sell at the Lung Center Sunday Market

I sing praises for the Sunday Market at the Lung Center. Best place to go on a Sunday morning; the place pulsates with life.
My favorite spectacle? The frogs.
I've heard of people making adobong frog. They say it tastes like chicken.
I don't have enough spirit of adventure to make that adobo.
So I remain, an avid frog watcher. Meanwhile, the frogs maintain their avid gourmet following. Week after week, the frog man is in his station, plying his delectable ware. Other frog recipes, anyone?