Category Archives: 2. Entrees & Appetizers

arugula & prosciutto soup

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chinese cucumber salad

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we’re going java!

if you ask hubs about his favorite pinoy dish, aristocrat’s java chicken will rank up there.  well really, what he likes about the dish is the java sauce that goes with the dish.  i think if he had his way, he would order the sauce as the entree and the chicken as the side.  the sauce itself tastes something in between teriyaki sauce, kecap manis, or molasses with peanut-ty undertones.

aristocrat’s restaurant in manila invented the sauce.  the filipino packaged goods brand, mama sita, makes a version that is sold throughout pinoy supermarkets at home and abroad.  our friends on the west coast have located the sauce at their local ethnic grocery stores.  hubs and i have yet to find the same sauce on the east coast.

a while back, i tried to make java sauce at home (attempt #1).  hubs said that it came in quite close but wasn’t quite right.  over the holidays, hubs got a hankering for java sauce again, and this time, i had him stand right next to the stove with me until his taste buds concurred that we were spot on. Continue reading

hakka-style stuffed tofu two-ways

for as long as i’ve known G, he’s been going on and on about his mum and aunt’s wonderful stuffed vegetable and tofu recipe.  and when i stopped by to celebrate christmas with his family two years ago in kuala lumpur, come supper time, his mom and aunt produced a massive plate filled with stuffed okra, peppers, eggplants and tofu, as pictured above.  pretty amazing, no?  and yes, i begged for the recipe, but was told that it was strictly a family secret.  bummer!

that said, i’ve been toying with making stuffed tofu for the past 10 years or so, although it’s usually something i make only for a special occasion…like this past thanksgiving.

most stuffed tofu recipes that i’ve seen, fry the stuffed object directly.  that technique works well only if using pre-fried tofu (yes, they sell this sort of thing in supermarkets).  i prefer to use fresh tofu, which has a tendency to fall apart if fried directly, plus the high water content of the silken tofu really muddles up the frying oil.  so, to counteract all this, i steam my tofu first, and then when it’s cold, i fry it in oil.

now, this past thanksgiving, about 2 hours before my guests showed up, i finally admitted that my turkey day menu had been a bit too ambitious (i can hear hubs’ “i told you so” refrain in the background), and decided to skip the frying and just serve the tofu steamed. it actually worked out great in retrospect, because steaming enabled me to just plop the entire basket from the steamer directly onto the “buffet” table — no plating required (not that i would have undertaken any fancy plating to begin with) — plus, i was able to serve the dish hot when guests arrived.

a few days later, when i found the box filled with leftover steamed stuffed tofu, i decided to fry those babies up.  it was like serving an entirely new dish that no one would think was made from leftovers!

Hakka-Style Stuffed Tofu 2 Ways
(makes about 24 stuffed tofu cubes)

Firm Tofu 2-3 boxes (some places package 1 large tofu block per box, some do 3 smaller tofus per box, some do 2 pieces; i recommend buying a Japanese or Chinese brand.  I’ve had mixed success with Korean tofu makers.  I bought a box of soft tofu once, and it was in fact equivalent to a Japanese or Chinese firm tofu.)
Lotus Leaf or Napa Cabbage A few pieces to be used for lining the bamboo steam basket
Stuffing
Lean Ground Pork ½ pound
Shrimp ½ pound, raw, peeled and deveined
Dried Shitake Mushrooms ½ cup, soaked and softened
Chinese Leeks ½ cup, washed, trimmed and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
Soy Sauce 1 tbsp
Shaoxing Wine 1 tbsp
Sesame Oil 1 tbsp
White Pepper 2 tsp
Cornstarch 2 tsp
Sauce for Steamed Tofu
Light Soy Sauce 1 cup
Cilantro ¼ cup minced
Thai chilis 2-3 stems, minced
Sauce for Fried Tofu
Chicken stock 1/3 cup
Shaoxing Wine 1/3 cup
Oyster Sauce 2 tbsp
Ginger 1 tsp minced
Shallots 1 tbsp minced
Cornstarch 1 tsp
  1. In the bowl of your food processor, drop in all ingredients.  Pulse a few times until just combined.  Transfer to a bowl.
  2. Cut tofu into roughly 1-inch cubes. Arrange in a bamboo steam basket lined with lotus leaf or napa cabbage.
  3. Use a melon baller to scoop out the center of the tofu.  (it’s just a quick twist using the melon baller. you’re leaving most of the tofu intact).
  4. Pick up a tablespoon or so of stuffing and roll it into a small ball. Place the ball into the center of the tofu you just scooped out.  Repeat until all tofu as been filled.
  5. Steam for at least 20 minutes, or until the stuffing is cooked.  (It’s hard to over-steam!)
  6. To make the sauce for the steamed tofu, just combine all the ingredients in a small bowl and mix together with a spoon.  Serve on the side in a small bowl.
  7. To fry the leftover tofu, heat about 2 cups of canola oil in a medium sized saucepan.  When the temperature reached 380ºF,  drop in one piece of tofu to test if the temperature is right.  Then, drop in a few more.  The temperature will dip each time you introduce a new piece of tofu, so only fry a few at a time.
  8. To make the sauce for the fried tofu,  heat about 1 tbsp of canola oil in a pan.  Drop in ginger and shallots and fry until golden brown.  While the shallots of browning, dissolve cornstarch into the chicken stock.   When the shallots have lightly browned, pour in shaoxing wine, followed by chicken stock/corn starch and oyster sauce.  Reduce until thickened to the consistency of gravy. Then, pour over fried tofu. [Note: in the picture above, I ran out of shallots and ginger, and substituted with black beans.  Personally, I prefer the shallots and ginger more].

sichuan powder steamed pork (粉蒸肉)


so for thanksgiving, i decided to dig up an old family favorite: powder steamed pork ribs.  my grandmother makes it with gusto.  when she lived in the US, she used to have it at every meal when we visited.  after making it myself, i understood why.  it’s a dish that you can make ahead in large batches and then re-heat as needed. because it’s steamed, the pork rarely dries out.  it tastes as good re-steamed as it does fresh out of the steamer.  plus, the prep time is virtually nil when you buy all those pre-packaged mixes! (grandma used to make her version the old fashioned way from scratch, but even she has discovered the convenience of modern mixes).

grandma usually makes her steamed pork ribs in a porcelain bowl, and then just sets the whole thing inside a steamer.  for our festive gathering, i decided to steam everything inside a lotus leaf wrapper.  the pork ends up taking on a bit of that lotus leaf scent, but really, it’s the dramatic visual effect of the lotus leaf i wanted.

grandma uses pork ribs in her version, and so do i.  when i visited sichuan over the summer, the restaurant served up a version made with fatty pork belly, which really wasn’t my cup of tea.

Sichuan Powder Steamed Pork Ribs (粉蒸肉
(7-8 servings)

Pork Ribs 3 lbs, cut into 1 inch cubes (easiest to find these at a Chinese grocery store. I buy the super premium strips and then cut into cubes at home)
Sweet Potatoes, Yams, Carrots or Pumpkin 2-3 cups, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks
5-Spiced Zheng Rou Fen (Steamed Pork Powder) 1 package.  See picture above
Lotus Leaf 2 leaves, soaked overnight
Fresh Garlic 4 cloves, finely minced
Rice Wine 2 tbsp
Canola Oil 2 tbsp
  1. The night before, soak lotus leaves overnight.
  2. The “5-Spiced Zheng Rou Fen” package contains 4 items: 2 packages of flavoring spice and 2 packages of a coarse white mealy substance that is the broken rice.
  3. The night before or at least one hour before, marinate the pork ribs using the 2 packages of the flavoring spice from the “5-Spiced Zheng Rou Fen” box, then add fresh garlic, rice wine and canola oil.  Mix everything well and leave in refrigerate to let it marinate.
  4. When ready to steam, line the bottom of a 10 to 12 inch round steamer with the lotus leaf, letting the edges of the leaf flow over the sides of the steamer.
  5. Place the sweet potato, carrots, pumpkins or yams on the bottom of the steam, on top of the lotus leaf.
  6. Sprinkle the rice powder (the other two packages inside the “5-Spiced Zheng Rou Fen” box) on top of the marinated pork.  And, pour the pork on top of the sweet potato.
  7. Fold the lotus leaf edges over to cover the pork.
  8. Place the lid on the steamer and steam for ~90 minutes, or until the pork and sweet potatoes are tender.

tomato and caramelized onion tart

given my blog’s name, you’d have thought i’d have a plethora of tomato recipes on the site!  well, i finally got around to writing up a tomato tart recipe.  it was also a good opportunity, too,  to use up all the cherry tomatoes that i had been amassing in my fridge.  of course, it turned out that i was a few tomatoes shy ,but i think i had just enough to fill up the tart shell in a decent enough manner.

did i ever mention that tarts, savory and sweet, are like the perfect thing to make when entertaining?  you can make all the individual parts in advance, store them in your fridge, and just assemble and bake the day of.   Or, if you’ve got plenty of fridge space, you can just make the whole thing a day or so in advance, and re-heat.  i baked mine in the morning, and got away with serving it at room temperature later in the evening.

or, if you’re, hubs you can gobble up the leftovers for breakfast straight from the fridge.  .  .  i suppose it’s a bit like eating cold pizza for breakfast?

Tomato & Caramelized Onion Tart
(makes 1 nine-inch round tart)

Pate Brisee About half recipe here
Onions 3 medium sized onions
Butter 2 tbsp
Dijon Mustard 1 tbsp
Assorted Cherry Tomatoes 2-3 cups, washed and dried.  Remove stems and leaves, if any
Salt & Pepper 1-2 tsp each
Olive Oil 1 tbsp +1 tbsp, separately
  1. Roll-out the dough on a well-floured surface until it is about 13 inches wide and about 1/16th inch thick.
  2. Fit the dough into a 10 inch tart ring.
  3. Place the raw tart shell in the freezer and pre-heat oven to 350ºF.  When the oven reaches 350ºF, bake the tart shell for 15 minutes. Then brush on some egg white and bake for 10 more minutes. Remove from oven to cool.
  4. Slice onion into thin rounds.
  5. Heat butter and 1 tbsp of olive oil in a flat skillet.
  6. Add in onions and cook on low heat until the onions have caramelized.  Yes, you can do this quickly over high heat, but onions won’t release their sugars unless you do this low and slow.  It will take 25 minutes or so.  Patience is a virtue…
  7. Remove caramelized onions from skillet and mix with mustard.
  8. Spread the onions on the bottom of the tart in an even layer.
  9. Toss tomatoes with salt, pepper and olive oil in a bowl.
  10. Arrange the tomatoes on top of the onions.
  11. Bake for another 40 to 45 minutes, or until the tomatoes are puckered and slightly charred.


the 2 hour turkey

people descended upon my thanksgiving spread so quickly that i didn’t have the opportunity to take a photo of the entire spread.  i did manage to sneak in strategically to get shots of individual dishes.  i’ll be posting them over the next few days. first, the turkey glamour shots . . .

i always try to find the smallest bird possible.  this year, i got a 10 lb free range turkey from Costco.  i recall paying $23 for the bird.

rather than brining, i do a salt and pepper rub. because of its small size, my turkey will cook in  about 2 hours, giving me plenty of time to use the oven for other things.

here’s what i did . . .

Lemon Rosemary Roasted Turkey
(one 10 lb turkey)

Turkey 1 8-10 lb bird, preferably free range
Salt & Pepper 1-2 tbsp
Olive Oil 1-2 tbsp
Lemons 2, halved
Rosemary 1 bunch
Onions 2 medium sized onions, halved
  1. Pre-heat oven to 425º F
  2. Wash and dry the turkey
  3. Sprinkle salt & pepper on the front and back, as well as inner cavity of the  bird
  4. Drizzle all over with olive oil
  5. Stuff the turkey with lemons, onions and rosemary
  6. Place the dressed bird on a rack set inside a sufficiently large roasting pan
  7. Roast for ~2 hours or until the temperature of the breast meat reached about 160º F
  8. Remove from oven, cover with foil and allow the meat to rest