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The Theoretical Cook


Sunday, June 25, 2006

My Shabu-Shabu (or how sukiyaki slices killed a simple vegetarian dream)

You make your life worthwhile by accepting your worth. These are not my words of wisdom, they're words printed at the back of a bookmark given to me yesterday while I was at the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University along Kamuning Road. The bookmark is a happy souvenir of my visit. I just wanted to inquire about yoga classes but I ended up attending the last few minutes of a session on vegetarian cooking, lacto-vegetarian cooking. There was nothing earth-shaking about the cooking demonstration procedure-wise, I caught the tail-end of vegetarian cheese pimiento and all that the cook did was dump canned pimientoes, cheddar cheese, butter, aminos, and mustard into a food processor. The maxims they mouthed while cooking have stuck in my head though: No negative thoughts while cooking. The best ingredient, the magic ingredient is - love. If you have love, fried tofu will taste delicious. Negative thoughts equals bad food. Later, we were told that the cooks were meditating open-eyed throughout the demonstration. I was very impressed.
I resolved to be a vegetarian (again) and attend the session on open-eye meditation (Raja yoga). Yoga was put aside for the moment.
Sunday marketing today, I went to the usual grocery place. I thought, will buy vegetables. I bought vegetables, plenty of vegetables: Korean radish, chili leaves, potatoes, carrots, pechay, onions, asparagus. Oh, wonderful.
Then I passed by the meat section. I saw very thinly sliced pork sukiyaki slices. It looked very nice. I thought, oh, it would be so wonderful to have meat with the vegetables. Then, forgetting all resolve, I bought the sukiyaki slices.

Have to postpone vegetarian aspirations.

Heres the shabu-shabu recipe:


1/2 kg pork sukiyaki
3 packets dashi powder
1 bunch of asparagus
1 radish
1 bunch of pechay
green onion leaves (chopped)
soy sauce
sesame oil


1) Boil 6 cups water. Add dashi powder.
2) Add all the vegetables except the pechay leaves.
3) Add the sukiyaki slices.
4) Add the pechay leaves.
5) Serve with sauce. (sauce: combination Kikkoman soy sauce, sesame oil, dashi stock - better if you use sesame seeds)

Note: I'm becoming an instinctive cook. :) I bought the sukiyaki slices intending to make the shabu-shabu but I didnt know what to use as stock. Remembering my brief Japanese cooking sessions, I bought dashi (Who can forget my awesome oden, simmering for almost an entire day in the demo kitchen?). And when I looked up the recipe on the net, there it was: dashi. Or do all Japanese soups begin with the ubiquitous dashi?

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Nilagang Baka/ Nilaga for the Sick

Nilagang baka tops my list of comfort food for sick people. It was my mother's ultimate prescription for fever, flu, colds, and a host of other ailments. Being the family's sickly child, I spent most of my formative years in hospitals or at home, convalescing slowly between spoonfuls of my mother's nilaga. There are various versions of nilaga: my friend's nanay cooks his nilaga with corn all the time. My mother's version was even simpler: just some beef pieces (preferably chuck rib, other bony parts with lots of marrow) left simmering in water with soy sauce, whole peppercorns, and lots of garlic. She would add a few potato slices 'for color'.
If I were taking care of a sick person, I would give that person a bowl of nilagang baka. Nothing like nilagang baka to restore one's sense of well-being.
Here is my recipe for nilagang baka. Its not as austere as my mother's. In fact, it's a rather frivolous version - with corn, potatoes, and pechay. So beef soup for the sick person, and the act of cooking as therapy for the cook's embittered soul. Oh, I miss my photocopies of Pierre Hadot. When Im old I will publish a recipe book with a nifty title like "The Consolations of Cooking".

Nilagang Baka

1/2 kg chuck ribs
1/2 kg bone marrow
5 cups water
3 pcs Japanese sweet corn
2 pcs potatoes (Jumbo potatoes cause thats what was in the ref)
ground black pepper (only because I dont have whole peppercorns)
10 cloves of garlic (crushed)

1) Blanch the meat in boiling water, remove scum.
2) Add the meat and bones to the soup pot. Add 5 cups of water or so. When it boils, remove the scum again. Replace the water.
3) Season with pepper (I was sneezing my way through this part). Add crushed garlic. Add salt.
4) Let simmer slowly.
5) When meat is slightly tender, add the corn. Then add the potatoes. (2 hours into the simmering process)
6) When the meat is really tender add the pechay leaves.
7) Serve.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Sinigang na Corned Beef

Some sensations are difficult to forget - the taste of Sentro's sinigang na corned beef, for example. The distinctive taste, a mellow fusion of the ultimate Pinoy comfort food sinigang and the familiar Irish corned beef stew, leaves an imprint and you find yourself craving for it when sense memory remembers. The problem with Sentro is that it is always crowded, especially after work hours. The taste is not consistent. There are days when their sinigang transports me to neverneverland and times when I never want to set foot on Greenbelt on account of an overly sour sinigang broth. But I would return, again and again, addicted to their (occasionally) sensational sinigang (and galunggong fillet, sizzling tofu, coffee pie, blahblah).
Was on my way home thinking of what to eat when I decided to cook my own version of that corned beef sinigang. Dropped by a grocery and thought of what to buy: of course there had to be gabi right? Sinigang isn't quite sinigang without that slippery, roux-like texture. I love gabi: that nice starchy crumbly texture dissolving in the hot broth inside your mouth. I also bought sampalok, the good student of Chef Belle that I am. I was bent on being a purist on this one: no instant sinigang mix for me. No. Then I took a second glance at the stall nearby and relented: ok, its quite late, I havent had a decent lunch, maybe I can be easy on my self and not do it the traditional way. Theres a reason why they created these mixes: convenience. And tonight I decided I wanted convenience. Just in case I change my mind (like I often do), I grabbed the sampaloc anyway. Without really thinking, I picked up potatoes, cabbages, tomatoes, baguio beans. We already had corned beef in the pantry.
So here is the sinigang. Did it meet the Sentro standards? Not quite, but it was something special. Probably the easiest dish I've ever cooked. You just throw everything into the simmering water in the soup pot (in this case, sauce pan).
Of course, I ate my sinigang with patis and sili :)

Sinigang na Corned Beef

1 can corned beef (Libby, McNeil, Libbys)
native gabi (yam)
2 pcs potatoes
2 pcs tomatoes
i head of cabbage
baguio beans
water (4 to 5 cups)
Sinigang mix


1) Add gabi, tomatoes and potatoes to the soup pot. Heat for 20 to 25 minutes until tender
2) Take out the vegetables from the stock.
3) Add sinigang mix
3) Add the baguio beans to the stock with the sinigang mix
4) Return the gabi, tomatoes and potatoes to the soup pot
5) Add the corned beef
6) Add the cabbage
7) Let simmer
8) Serve

Lessons learned:
Use some other corned beef brand. The texture of Libby is similar to liver spread. Its not very pretty. The color also leaves the sinigang broth looking very pink.
Dont leave the sinigang simmering. If you want to simmer the broth, take out the vegetables.
Dont use too much sinigang mix. 1/4 of the packet is enough to flavor the broth.
Certain tastes cannot be duplicated.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006


For a 'bar', Conspiracy serves some noteworthy pulutan. On top of my list is their nori-wrapped tofu, best eaten with Red Horse. They have interesting pulutan platters there: very cheap, and very well-plated. I even dream of their 'plating'.
For a time there was 70s bistro along Anonas Road, the place to go to watch The Jerks, Noel Cabangon, Cynthia Alexander, Cookie Chua, and a host of other musicians. 70s bistro after those horrible killer exams, 70s bistro with its bad restrooms, low ceiling, hard chairs, and extra cherries for those who want to make knots with their tongues (to prove mastery in the fine art of kissing). Who can forget the Jesus Christ Superstars they staged there every holy week, with the makeshift stage and all, Cynthia's Mary Magdalene. Who can forget that woman singing my song, yes my song, about "walang hanggang paalam" and KB's rejoinder. Oh those were happy happy days, looking back now, and we thought we were miserable.
Well, the artists have made the exodus to Conspiracy along Visayas.
Ive been to Visayas a few times during school but I dont remember much except that I was generally a hanger on for T, a self-confessed groupie. I was just there to accompany T and listen to her talk mysteriously about N, and about why Neil Gaiman rocks. I remember she showed me a nude photo of her back.
So why am I bringing all of these things up in a food blog? Because out of a hundred lousy bars that one can stagger into in this city, only 1 can serve a half-decent food offering. And Im just saying that Conspiracy is the one.

Eating Chicken Teriyaki at RaiRaiKen

Im not a fan of RaiRaiKen. The one time I ate there, I remember eating something masquerading as chicken curry; the spice mix was so bad no amount of coke could drown out the aftertaste. It was also horribly expensive, with VAT, service charge and all. What was I doing ordering curry in a Japanese restaurant? The curry experience was so bad I have been avoiding RRK like crazy eventhough we have such a limited selection of eating places along Magallanes. RRK is down there beside TokyoTokyo: I don't understand why there are still lines? Why?
No I dont hate Japanese food. In fact, I love Japanese food. I was addicted for sometime on Sushiya's Chawan Mushi. So addicted that I would go all the way to Libis (where the first Sushiya stood). In cooking school, my oden, which I left stewing in dashi broth with daikon and eggs and potatoes for hours and hours on end, was a runaway hit. In fact, it was my sole culinary accomplishment in Japanese cuisine. My sushi creations were so bad, even I couldnt stomach them. For a time I stocked up on Mirin, and Japanese rice wine vinegar, and dashi, and even those ridiculous lotus roots for our Japanese themed house meals. My housemate had oodles of Soba noodles from Japan, where he had spent a year as an exchange student. So we would have some soba noodles with sesame oil, or miso soup with nori and tofu, and other simple concoctions.
I like peasant food, and the best part of Japanese cuisine for me is the so-called Japanese country cuisine. But Japanese fast food - such as RRK and TokyoTokyo - these are insults to Japanese cuisine.