Welcome to adobo-down-under!

Musings. Family. Food. Stories. Cooking. Recipes. Eating. A recipe journal. From simple Filipino dishes to challenging recipes and exciting gastronomical failures. This is for my girls to look back on for comfort, memories, laughs, love and lots of food!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Birthdays and cakes

I love birthdays. Its that time of the year when we can actually indulge in our favourite food. Including cake, cake and more cake.

This time around, as my girls approached their 5th birthday, we decided to do something brave. Host a birthday party for the little people. And so, those weeks with my nose on tons of recipe books was worth it. Its time to try baking cake from scratch. Now, that is a big feat for me, not to mention the fact that the thought of being a party host for little ones already makes my brain throb. But I love my girls and this is going to be their first party in Sydney. Previous birthdays were done at home with family and last year was in preschool so those don't really count for a "real" party. Now no matter how simple the party is, organizing one is not really that simple. There is the matter of the loot bags, menu (with consideration for allergens), decoration, invites, and of course - activities. What will they do in those 2 hours?!!!!

The girls love Hi-5 (an original Australian group catering to toddlers and preschoolers) and so it was only apt that they have Hi-5 as their birthday party theme (Its amazing how many merchandise one can get online!). Now, while I do love to cook and be in the kitchen, parties make me crumble too. I may prepare something gourmet for a week night dinner, but I can never muster my hands to prepare something on a large scale. And so the menu had to be something frozen - something good that can be baked fast and served straight away. Nibbles that can be bought and eaten without much of the fuss, as I still need all the energy to concoct the birthday cakes from scratch! And so we had - sausage rolls, meat pies, corn on the cob, sliced watermelon, chocolate cupcakes (which I also did from scratch - oh my!), and mini ice creams served in a bowl (I got the idea from Simply Bill too - chill the bowl in the freezer beforehand, then serve the mini ice cream sticks upward).

And so, the birthday party (hosted on the Anzac Day holiday) was my excuse to try on the best chocolate cake there is - in all of the recipe books I have on hand, borrowed from the local library.

For the birthday party cake (I had to make three!), I decided to try two chocolate cake recipes. Both chosen for the simplicity of ingredients and ease of preparation. For my first attempt, I used Bill Granger's easy mix chocolate cake with real chocolate frosting from Simply Bill. The recipe was simple enough and also had an interesting take on the frosting - it called for combining sour cream and dark chocolate. The cake turned out alright, but I found it too fussy to do another one as this recipe is for a 2-layer cake. The result was an absolutely devlish looking cake but was lighter in colour.

The next cake I took on was from The Essential Baking Cookbook for the simple Chocolate Cake recipe. The ingredients were on hand, and the preparation time was just right to still be able to get out of the kitchen in time for the party. This recipe was unique as the cake batter called for blackberry jam, which all the more intrigued me and pushed me to try it. The result? Well, despite substituting the "blackberry jam" with what we had in the refrigerator (I used plum jam) by far, this is the best tasting chocolate cake I have ever done (counting the ones from ready-mix boxes). The cake is moist and the frosting was an equal match to the cake itself. I made 2 of this (one square and one round) and let the guests decide which one is best. The verdict came out - the kids love the moist cake while the adults did love the sour cream-dark chocolate frosted cake. This cake came out with the cake darker in colour than the previous one.

And while all these made me exhausted at the end of the party, it didn't stop me from making another batch (using the latter recipe) for the girls actual birthday. Another round for candle blowing is a wonderful thing. Especially when we know there's more chocolate cake to bite on!

Not only did my oven worked over time last weekend, I can't say much of what's left of my assistants in the kitchen. Here they are, all tired and grubby from all the work. Till the next birthday celebration!

An Aussie Sausage Sizzle

The first time I've heard of a sausage sandwich here in Sydney was when we toured the city. Heaps of sites to see and wonderful places to visit, and almost everywhere its there. The sausage sizzle. This is amongst the countless fish and chips shops, which I will reserve for another time. At first, I thought it was odd - eating sausage (my thought compared this to the PinoyLongganisa) served on bread instead of rice. But living here for almost 3 years, I have come to take it as part of my credo of "learning to be an Australian". Its actually not just in the shops and kiosks, its also the easiest thing to spot in markets, in soccer games, in school fetes, fundraising events, etc.

The "sausage" can be bought from any butcher or at the supermarket cold section. This is either fried or grilled, as is or skewered.

The mushrooms are sliced and either cooked on the flat grill alongside the sausage, or sauteed with a little oil and seasoned with salt and pepper. I use butter to do this.

The onions are sliced thinly, and like the mushroom can be grilled or sauteed, in a little oil. When slightly translucent, drizzle with some balsamic vinegar and a little sugar.

The sausage along with grilled mushrooms and glazed onions are now one of the food groups we have in our monthly menu, served on a white bread or the real sausage rolls with tomato or barbeque sauce. This we serve alongside some salad greens and boiled corn on the cob. A simple and easy meal on a lazy autumn weekend, and gulping it all down in front of the TV.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Cold autumn weather = Lazy Arroz Caldo

Cold weather always make me sluggish. Catatonic in the morning and most often than not, lethargic all day until its bedtime again. And to think we don't even have snow in this part of the country. Imagine if I did live in a snow covered terrain. I can be a fuzzy old bear in hibernation all winter! I think I can actually sleep for 24hours straight if I'm really left to it. I'm guessing if reincarnated, I might come out as a turtle. Tucked away in a warm place most of the time, and only coming out when its safe and in need of refreshments. But with a household full of always-hungry-kids and a husband who craves for rice all the time, I can't be in hibernation can I? So whats the best pick-me-up dish than can actually arouse the senses and make you feel warm and good all over? My best bet - good old Pinoy Arroz Caldo.

I say this version is "lazy" because with very little time but huge appetite and expectation, this dish was prepared in the fastest way possible - doing the one pot wonder.

My procedure: in a big pot, bring to boil water with 2 cups glutinous rice, 1/2 cup ginger strips, 2 cloves finely chopped garlic and 500g chicken breast, sliced. When everything is cooked and the rice is tender, add some strips of saffron. This adds colour and a certain aroma to the arroz caldo. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Or some fish sauce.

It was just timely that we had a few "calamansi" (there aren't many calamansi in the local markets here) from a Pinoy friend the previous weekend, that this dish was already complete in our dictionary.

Served warm in individual bowls with toasted garlic, chopped onion chives and calamansi, and some fish sauce on the side. Yum! Makes me want to have another bowl!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Citrus Reticulata - Imperial Mandarins now in season!

The autumn chills are slowly coming in and what a good time to indulge in more vitamin C enriched foods to beat the cold. My girls love Imperial Mandarins, that a 3-kilo bought from a trip to the supermarket never lasts long in our house. The most is a day. They love this member of the citrus family because with its thick-skin, they can easily peel this on their own. Plus, the sweet and juicy membranes are enough to satisfy their usual hunger without ruining their appetite for the main meal. Maybe its time to try and plant these for future harvest.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Moist Apple Cake

There were still several apples left over from the Easter Bilpin weekend. And these already turned out 4 batches of apple crumble given to friends! What else is there left to do with these apples was something I had been hunting from books the past week. And an invitation to a children's birthday party (CJ Catipon's) last weekend was a timely event to try on the Moist Apple Cake from Sweet Comfort Food - Glorious Desserts and Treats like Mother Used to Make. Bring some cake for the grown ups to try. Hmmmm.

Of course, it was just the normal flurry in the kitchen, after doing the usual vacuuming,-laundry-tidying weekend. I didn't make much of it considering it was my first time to actually make "cake" from scratch. After 30 minutes, the house was beginning to smell of a delicious aroma. And then after 50 minutes this was replaced by wows and oohs and aahs, as my own family complimented the gorgeous looking cake.

It is a simple recipe that requires very little effort and equipment. No need for electric mixers or high-tech kitchen top kinds. The only major effort here is the "rubbing in" technique, of which I found an easier description in the Usborne Farmyard Tales Children's Cookbook (I wonder why? tee hee.)... and to quote;

"Rubbing In
1. Use a blunt knife to mix pieces of margarine or butter with the flour. Stir and cut until the pieces are coated with flour.

2. Then, rub the pieces between your fingertips. As you rub, lift the mixture up and let it fall back into the bowl.

3. Carry on rubbing in the butter or margarine until it is completely mixed in and the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs."

Here is the rest of the recipe. Variations in the measurement also included):

225g/8oz/2 cups self-raising flour
good pinch of salt
pinch of ground cloves (I replaced this one with ground cinnamon as this was the only one I have available in our pantry)
115g/4oz/ 1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
4 cooking apples
115g/4oz/ generous 1/2 cup caster (superfine) sugar
2 eggs, beaten

a little milk to mix
granulated sugar to sprinkle over

1 Preheat the oven to 190 degrees C / 375 degrees F / Gas 5, and butter a 20cm/8inch round cake tin (pan).

2. Sift the flour, salt and ground cloves into a bowl. Cut in the butter and rub in until the mixture is like fine breadcrumbs. Peel and core the apples. Slice them thinly and add to the
rubbed in mixture with the sugar.

3. Mix in the eggs and enough milk to make a fairly stiff dough, then turn the mixture into the
prepared tin and sprinkle with granulated sugar.

4. Bake in the preheated oven for 30-40 minutes, or until springy to the touch. Cool on a wire rack. When cold store in an airtight container until ready to serve.

This cake is absolutely delicious. The sprinkled sugar makes for a crunchy top and the combined apple and cake is the moistest dessert there is. Probably best served with coffee, tea of some ice cream on the side.


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Quick and Easy - Pork Katsudon

One of the favourite dishes in our house is pork chops - breaded, fried, grilled, sauted with onions, etc. What can I say! Like Aussies are to lambchops, Manluloz are to porkchops. My girls love it because its something they can eat with their rice and they like the drippings from the grill or the pan. I like it because it is one of the most versatile cuts in the meat category.

For a little bit of variety and a touch of Japanese, a friend of mine shared this simple and quick recipe which I've included in our fortnightly menu. The only unique ingredient in this recipe though, is the mirin. Mirin is an essential condiment used in Japanese cuisine. It is also like sake but has a lower alcohol content. Mirin isn't that hard to get here. It is mostly available in all asian shops. And because we also love most Japanese dishes, this is one of the basics in our pantry.

This dish is not intended for the kids though as they prefer it plain, and sometimes dipped in soy sauce and vinegar with garlic.

So the next time you have some pork chops in the freezer, should be best to try this simple rice topping menu.

Scoop some rice in a bowl. Top it with your fried or breaded porkchops.

In a small saucepan, boil: 1/4 cup soy sauce, 1/4 cup mirin, 1/4 cup water and 2 tbsp sugar. Once it boils, stir in 1 or 2 eggs. Then add the chopped onion chives. Remove from heat.

Note: You may add more sugar to suit your taste, as sometimes the soy sauce can be too salty. Depending on the brand. I usually have light soy in the pantry.

Pour the mirin mixture onto the rice bowl. Serve warm. Best eaten with chopsticks.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Brownie Bonanza

This is an old recipe. Not passed on from my ancestors, but something I dug up from an Australian magazine which stopped publication late 2006. This brownie recipe was taken from the October 2003 issue of Family Circle (p. 102). In just a span of 3 days, I already made 2 batches of this brownie which my girls really love. We tried it with some vanilla ice cream (ala mode) and strawberries on the side! It was absolutely the best dessert ever. At least for my girls.

Here are the ingredients and the instructions. Very simple and very quick to make. Takes about 20 minutes preparation and 40-45minutes cooking time.

200g dark chocolate, chopped
125g butter, chopped
1 1/4 cups or 280g caster sugar
3/4 cup or 115g plain flour
1/4 cup or 30g cocoa powder (I used unsweetened, but the recipe wasn't specific)
150g walnuts, roughly chopped
3 eggs

Pre-heat over to 180 degrees C. Line a 28cm X 18cm slab pan with non stick baking paper.

Put the chocolate and butter into a heatproof bowl and place over a saucepan of simmering water, stirring occasionally until smooth. Remove the bowl fro the saucepan and set aside.

Combine the sugar, flour, cocoa powder and walnut in a bowl. Stir in the eggs and chocolate mixture until just combined.

Pour into the slab pan and bake for 40-45minutes, or until moist crumbs cling to a skewer when inserted into the centre.

Remove from the oven and set aside to cool completely (In our house, the cooling doesn't happen as it is devoured immediately!)

Then , cut into slices to serve.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Simple Simon's Apple Crumble

Simple Simon met a pie man, going to the fair.....

With about 10k of apples still lurking in our fruit basket - an aftermath of our Easter weekend adventure in Bilpin, I thought it already timely to search for the easiest recipe for apple pie. I came upon this one from an interesting site - life explain, on film and found the instructions easy and simple.

This one took less than an hour to make and the results was a treat like no other (I used 2 store bought shallow aluminum pie plates) The combination of the crumble and vanilla ice cream is simply a mouth-watering after-dinner dessert. The vanilla ice cream is a must, but I reckon this must also be combined with a good cuppa (tea or coffee).

Check out the site link, or follow this simple instructions.

Prepare: 4 cooking apples (I used the Granny Smith kind), diced and cored; 250g white sugar, 200g plain flour; 150g butter; 1 cinnamon stick.

First, stew the apples by combining the apples with the sugar and cinnamon stick in a shallow pan. (I actually think cinnamon powder will work wonders as well but we already had the sticks in stock). This took approximately less than 20minutes on high heat. To minimize burning and sticking on the pan, stir occasionally with a wooden spoon or spatula, but being careful not to mash the apples.

For the apple stew, 2/3 of the sugar ingredient is used.

This is how it turned out - golden and sweet smelling. Up close, it resembled pineapple chunks.

Take this out from the heat, and let cool.

Transfer onto a shallow oven-proof baking dish (or an aluminum pie plate).

While the apples are cooling, mix together remaining sugar, flour and the butter with your hands. Cover the stewed apple with the crumble without pressing. Then bake this in a pre-heated oven (150 degrees centigrade).

The pie is finished when the crumble is golden brown and appears crunchy and crisp to the touch.

Scoop and serve with scoops of vanilla ice cream. Heaven!

Monday, April 07, 2008

Spaghetti ala Carbonara

This dish is one of my favorites. Fast, simple and my daughter loves it. The smoky taste of the bacon plus the texture and roboust taste of the parmesan is enough to make this part of our monthly dinner menu. Previously, I would prepare carbonara using thickened cream instead of eggs, but found this recipe is more flavourful and not too creamy. I've gotten this recipe from allrecipes.com but have substituted some ingredients and eliminated some. In this instance, I've substituted the parsley with green peas and have not used white wine (which was optional). This is one of those 30min meals which should be a must in busy households such as ours.

The basic ingredients : 1 pack 500g spaghetti noodles; 1 small onion, chopped; 2tbsp olive oil, 8-10 strips bacon (more if you prefer), 1/2 cup frozen peas, 1 cup parmesan cheese, 4 eggs, beaten; salt and pepper to taste (again, if preferred. In this case, I don't normally use salt but a little pepper, because the bacon and the parmesan are already salty by itself).

For starters, the bacon is diced (according to how big or how small you want it to be). I usually slice it lengthwise first, then dice it up cross-wise. I use half a pack of a 1kg middle bacon.

First cook the bacon in the olive oil until brown, but making sure not to burn it. Drain this in paper towels. In the same pan leave some of the bacon drippings then stir the onions until translucent. Then add back the bacon. Stir for about half a minute and then add in the drained spaghetti noodles. Put heat on to low, then add the beaten eggs and the parmesan cheese. Mix well and make sure the eggs are cooked through. Once thoroughly mixed, turn off heat then stir in the peas. This will still cook the peas but won't make them too soft and soggy.

You may serve extra parmesan cheese and bacon bits on the side.

Serve warm with garlic bread or bread sticks, and enjoy!

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Noodle Quest

Several weeks ago, I came across this vegetable stir-fry noodles from a sushi kiosk at one of the local shops. It was an absolute delight! As with almost every kind of meal I take outside of the home, I investigated the ingredients and tried to catch the taste. The meal contained julienned carrots, bits of brocolli, Chinese mushrooms, sesame seeds and it was spicy hot, and the noodles was something unique - thicker than the usual rice vermicelli noodles and was glassy in texture. It was something I've never seen or eaten before. And so from then on, I have been on a quest. To hunt for that kind of "noodle" and prepare the same stir-fry noodle at home.

Several weeks passed and with numerous Asian stores visited, I still haven't found it. Or even, haven't got a clue of what is was - what's it called. And so with so much interest and excitement to try it at home, I did prepare it and substituted the "glassy" noodles with the flat rice vermicelli kind. It turned out alright, but something was not quite right. Somehow, the "thick-glassy" noodle was missing and my palate was somehow not content. My taste testers (hubby and friends) were convinced it was "gourmet" good. But still, my quest for finding the right kind of "noodle" has failed me. But life goes on....

And then, two weekends ago I found it! It was staring right at me at one Asian shop (Miracle Supermarket in Rhodes) we happened to pass by during one of our weekend shopping trip. There it was - glassy and thick. And then we were introduced. Meet the Potato Starch Noodle!

And now, the quest has ended and its time to prepare again, the vegan stir fry noodle, this time with the correct ingredients.

For starters, the noodles have to be soaked in boiling water and then left for 10 minutes. Then drain it in cold water (instructions in the packet). * Note on the boiling water - turn off heat once noodles are soaked. It will make for a firmer texture and not soggy. Here they look like raw dilis or some seaweed grass, but upclose they look like strands of plastic nylon string.

This time, because I have been buying prepared packs of veggies lately (Asian stir-fry, coleslaw, etc), I used what I had at home. The Asian stir fry packet (Woolworths) consisted of julienned carrots, purple cabbage, white cabbage, cauliflower, celery and some onions. I added some more chopped onions (white) and Chinese mushrooms. Using vegetable oil, the veggies were stir fried quickly (less than 3 minutes), added the Chinese mushrooms and mixed the noodles. I poured a bit of sesame oil, chilli oil and chilli flakes, mixed for another 1-2 minutes. Then transferred onto a serving dish and sprinkled with sesame seeds. The result is just as I expected - the same taste, texture and aroma that I have experienced several weeks back, but this time with a certain label of "special"... what with so much waiting that went into it.


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