A Hankering for Home–Arroz Caldo

We have had a spell of cold weather lately, which kinda sucks because it was already so warm! I always want a bit of home when I get the blues, so I made Arroz Caldo. It is basically the Filipino version of Congee, that much-beloved Chinese rice porrige. It is normally served during cold days, for breakfast, or when one is having a meh day.

It is quite easy to make, the only thing that you need to look out for is the kind of rice that you are using. Filipinos normally use a mixture of normal and sticky rice, but risotto rice or German Milchreis is also an acceptable variety.

First, finely mince three cloves of garlic and dice an onion finely. Chop about an inch’s length of ginger into matchsticks. In a large, deep casserole, sauté the onion and garlic in about four tablespoons of oil, then add half of the ginger and about three to four pieces of chicken in the pot and slightly brown them. When the chicken pieces are slightly brown, throw in a small amount of water (about fourth of a cup) into the pot and let the juices seep out of the chicken (this is a technique I picked up from Burnt Lumpia), about 10 minutes. Season the chicken with salt or fish sauce and soy sauce for some color and pepper, then wait another five minutes to let all the juices seep out because of the salt. Then I add enough water to fully submerge the chicken, and wait until the water comes to a boil. 

When the water starts boiling, add a cup or two of rice and the rest of the ginger and lower the heat. Cover the pot. Stir occasionally to check if the rice is done, about 30-40 minutes. Boil a little longer if it is too watery, or conversely, add more water if the porridge is too thick. Season with salt or fish sauce and pepper, and garnish with chopped chives, safflower, and a sliced hard-boiled egg. Sprinkle the porridge with a touch of calamansi (lemons and limes are acceptable substitutes) and more fish sauce, and you have the Filipino comfort food in a bowl!

And there are many different variations to this basic recipe. If you take out the chicken pieces from the stock before adding the rice, and omit the soy sauce and fish sauce, you are making lugaw, which is what we feed babies, the elderly, and the sick. Use pig or cow intestines instead of chicken, it’s called tripa, because of well…tripe. The local version of Blutwurst can also be used as a garnishing.

As for me, I prefer eating one-day old re-heated Arroz Caldo.


Pinoy-style Empanadas with Puff Pastry Shells

I love empanadas! The Spanish version of the sandwich is a shared culinary legacy among all Hispanic countries, and this quick recipe is even made easier because ready-made puff pastry (Blätterteig)  is available in German supermarkets. No more making my own dough! I would, however, not recommend re-rolling to re-use the rest of the pastry because then they puff up too much.

I was under pressure to make these empanadas and clocked myself making them in 1 hour and 30 minutes total, from start to finish including waiting time. It also helped that cubed chicken bits are available pre-packaged in supermarkets here.

I normally use 4 rolls of puff pastry from the supermarket. 3 garlic cloves and 1 small onion, finely chopped, 1 (about 420 g) pound cubed (maybe 1/2 inch by 1/2 inch?) chicken breast,100 g frozen green peas, 100 g raisins (could be less, or optional), 1 small potato and 1 small carrot, diced

Pre-heat oven to 200° C and bring out the green peas to defrost. Sauté the garlic and onions in about 2 tablespoons of oil, then add the chicken, and fry until no longer pink. Add two to three dashes of salt to bring out the juices from the chicken. Add the potatoes and carrots, letting them absorb the liquid from the chicken. Stir fry for about five minutes, add the green peas and then the raisins, and season with salt and pepper. The raisins should absorb the rest of the liquid from the chicken, and maybe the remaining ice/water from the peas. When the potatoes and peas are done, put the mix in a collander and let the excess liquid drip off. Wait for the filling to cool! Puff pastry is mostly butter, and the heat could weaken the dough.

empanadasMeanwhile, I got to work on the shells. I used a small bowl about 7 inches across to cut out circles into the unfurled puff pastry. A Tablespoon of the filling in the middle, fold the dough in half, then crimp and seal the edges with the tines of a fork. Pierce the shell three times, and bake for about fifteen to twenty minutes, until golden. The filling is enough to make 35 empanadas, or you can only buy two puff pastry rolls, set aside half of the filling, then add tomato sauce and a bay leaf to make Philippine-style chicken menudo from the leftovers. I am getting better at this waste not thing.

Puto Bungbong

Puto Bumbong is one of the things I miss the most about the Philippines. I guess it also has something to do with the fact that I miss Filipino Christmastime, and Puto Bumbong is the thing that reminds me the most of it. It is made of coconut milk, rice flour, and purple yam, called Ube in the Philippines, and steamed in the hollow of a bamboo reed (hence the name Bumbong, the word for bamboo reed.)

So imagine my delight when my friend prepared some puto bumbong for me, with enough left over to take home! She made it in her rice cooker, which has left me contemplating whether I should get one. As I said, I must be the only Filipino on the planet who is rice cooker-less.

East and Southeast Asian desserts, in general, are an acquired taste for Europeans because many are made of rice. The gooey, chewy texture is very weird for them. I completely understand! I guess it is one of those things you have to grow up with to love. My friend’s husband gave me the side-eye as I enjoyed my Puto Bumbong with grated coconut and muscovado sugar.

With my puto bumbong craving satisfied for the meantime, I think I’ll make more of these in the future!


It Kinda Feels Wrong…


I was supposed to write about something else today, but it just feels so wrong after knowing what happened in Leyte, my grandmother’s home province. She meant a lot to me and to know that her home town is in shambles makes me feel quite sad. I’m trying to help any way I can by donating and hopefully, we’ll get a fundraiser going in Germany too next month.

Please donate to the Philippine Red Cross using the key words “Supertyphoon Yolanda.” After the 7.2 earthquake in Bohol last month, this is the last thing the Visayas needs. If you already have donated, thank you!

Cooking with Liver

Liver. As an ingredient, I should be very familiar with it. After all, who hasn’t eaten pâté?Reno spread? German cooking? Filipino cooking. Liver, liver, liver, they have that in common.

There is a saying that disgust is cultural. If a person grew up eating rotting dried fish, he’s gonna automatically start salivating at the mere sight of it. But liver is one of those things I never really warmed up to.

As a kid, I ate everything. Balut, Betamax, Chicken feet…you name it. But as I reached the age of five I began to realize what these things really are. A duck’s egg a day before hatching. Coagulated blood cake. Liver.

menudoGrowing up, I avoided eating liver. But then I was invited to a potluck Filipino party, I had promised to cook Menudo. No, not the ’80s boy band. It’s a Philippine stew, with liver and pork belly cubes (I prefer minced pork, however). I normally omit the liver when I cook Menudo for home, but an authentic dish can’t really be  without it. So for the first time in my life, I am handling liver as an ingredient.

Handling liver felt so alien. It was slick, slippery, and lightweight. It was billowy to the touch, but surprisingly tough to cut. I needed a seriously sharp knife, it was that dense. My hands smelled like liver for hours.

Was it yucky? In the beginning, yes, but I got used to it. Would I start eating liver again? In bits and pieces, why not? As a daily dish, not really.


It’s been a humid,  wet summer, warm rain, just like in the Philippines.

Since the weather wants to play Filipino, I indulged in my favorite rainy weather comfort food: Filipino chicken soup, aka Tinola!

There are as many versions of Tinola as there are Filipinos on this planet, so don’t bother looking for the “one true Tinola.” However, what we can agree on about Tinola is that it always consists of chicken parts, water, ginger, and fish sauce. I based the technique on Burnt Lumpia’s Tinola, but basically this is my recipe for Tinola. The great thing about it is that you can use whatever green veggie you have handy, so if you have spinach, go for it!

For my version of Tinola, I use:

500 g of assorted chicken parts, 4 Tbsp. crushed or finely diced ginger, 1 clove of garlic, crushed, 1 small green papaya or chayote (known in Tagalog as sayote, available in Asian food stores), peeled and sliced lengthwise. You can use these assortment of greens: 1 cup of chili leaves, or a bunch of tatsoi, or malunggay (moringa oleifera) leaves. Two cups of water, salt, pepper, and a very liberal application of fish sauce depending on your taste is needed.

In a deep pot, heat about five tablespoons of cooking oil, and sauté the ginger and garlic until fragrant, then add the chicken to lightly sear them all around. Salt the chicken while sautéing. Add a splash of water and quickly cover the pot. When the pot stops steaming, add a cup of water bit by bit, and let the pot simmer for 20 minutes. Add the next cup of water bit by bit, then put in the papaya or chayote, and simmer for another 10 minutes. Add some pepper and fish sauce, according to your liking, and then add your greens. Serve when the greens have just wilted.

This is traditionally eaten as a viand with a fresh plate of steamed rice and a small dish of fish sauce to season. Enjoy!




Guinataan sa Bilo-Bilo

With the return of the cold, comes the desire to eat comfort food. I chanced upon some gabi root (taro) in the Asian food store, and sweet potatoes were on sale at the local supermarket, so why not make guinataan na bilo-bilo?

Guinataan, which I have explained in the past, is an adjective that means something made with coconut milk, is one of those Filipino things that Anthony Bourdain would say “it makes no goddamned sense,” but it works. Normally eaten during the rainy season, Guniataan na Bilo-Bilo (bilog means circle in Tagalog) gets its name from the chewy balls made from ground sticky rice. We put all sorts of root crops in it like taro, sweet potato, and ube or purple yam. Not many foreigners get guinataan, but I think it’s one of those things that you have to grow up with to appreciate.

All of the ingredients can be found in your friendly neigborhood Asian market. I am not satisfied with the results I get from rice flour, maybe I’ll go old school next time and soak a handful of sticky rice overnight then puree it with a blender in my next try.

The first thing you should do is boil two cups of water in a saucepan. Add 1/2 cup of starch balls (the  “pearls” from  “Bubble Tea”) when the water is in a rolling boil, and turn down the heat into a simmer.

I peeled and cubed the 2 taro and 2 sweet potatoes to about 2 inches square, and mixed 100 g of rice flour with 150 ml of milk. I erred on the side of caution and stopped adding milk as soon as there were no more dry flour in the dough. Roll them into cherry-sized or smaller balls. This should be enough to make 12.

Boil a liter of coconut milk into a pot, uncovered. Add 250 g of sugar. Add the sweet potato and taro. When they’re tender enough that a fork pierces through them, add the rice balls one by one, mixing the pot after each addition so they don’t clump together. Open a 365g can of jackfruit in syrup, shred the jackfruit lengthwise. Dump the jackfruit and syrup into the pot. Add the starch balls with the water, and add either more sugar or coconum milk, if so desired. Let it simmer for 15 minutes more, and there you have it!

I had the entire pot all to myself. Which was all good, it took two days to demolish it.


Easy-Peasy Leche Flan

Now that asparagus season is coming up, which means that I whip up a batch of Sauce Hollandaise every time I make them, also means that I have to be creative with what to do with egg parts that are left behind.

Egg whites are not a problem. They can be frozen or chilled, and are in fact all the better for it, since cold egg whites are faster to whip than those in room temp.

But what to do with egg yolks? You can turn them in to flan, known in the Philippines as Leche Flan, which was introduced to the Philippines by the Sapnish by way of Mexico. Filipino flan uses only egg yolks. As a child, I was fascinated at the ceremony of making this dish. Making the caramel, straining the egg yolks, rubbing dayap (lime) rind, then steaming them seemed so complicated, I never thought that I’d get them right. And duck eggs! Purists always argue that duck eggs make the best flan. It is rich enough to give you a coronary.

Nigella Lawson’s Nigella Express saved me from all that trouble by giving me a flan recipe that is so easy, preparation time is 10 minutes, excluding the 45 minute cooking time.

zuckerrubensirupAnother time-saving product for me is Zuckerrübensirup, or syrup made out of sugar beets, also available in Australia as golden syrup. This saves me from making the caramel top of the flan, which I keep on burning anyway!

The recipe comes from Nigella Lawson, and instead of a traditional llanera, I use a round aluminum cake pan 8 inches in diameter. The recipe below is enough to fill the pan.


The flan requires: 1 340 g can evaporated milk (known in Germany, strangely enough, as Kondensmilch. I use one with 10% fat, which is the fat content of evap milk in the Philippines), 1 397g can of sweetened condensed milk, 3 eggs, and 2 teaspoons vanilla extract.

Put enough of the golden syrup to completely line the bottom of the cake form. Add all of the ingredients of the flan in a bowl and whisk until well incorporated. Pour into cake tin.

Now there are two ways to cook the flan, both of them involve steaming. In Nigella’s recipe,  the cake tin should be placed in a bigger pan filled with freshly-boiled water, then place in a pre-heated oven, baking it in 170°C for 45 minutes.

I’m lazy by nature. I figured out that my cake tin fits snugly in my biggest cooking pot. Even if I have a double boiler, I have never used it for the recipe. I just half-fill the pot with water, place the cake form over it, then cover the form with the pot’s lid. Forty-five minutes later, I have flan! Always test the readiness of the flan by inserting a toothpick in it. If it comes out clean, then you know it’s done.

This flan is always a welcome pot-luck gift at Filipino parties. So every time I am invited to one, I always bring flan. Who has to know that it  also has egg whites in it?

The Mommy Files–ACE Water Spa

One of my favorite things to do in Germany is to go to the local swimming hall (Spaßbad) with my son, and spend the day swimming indoors, in warm water, especially when it’s cold out.

I was very happy to find out that this is also possible in the Philippines, with the opening of ACE Water Spa. It costs about 550 Php, or about 10 euros entrance. It is basically the same price in Germany, with the same facilities. They also provide a swim cap, probably to protect the filter system of the water, which you have to give back at the end of your 4-hour stay.

They also have a sauna, which many people unfortunately don’t know how to use. Scented pools, massage whirlpools, and a swimming pool. I was very impressed by the facilities. Unfortunately, no photos allowed inside, so all I have is a blurry picture of the spa from the viewing window.

They also have a restaurant and hotel, but it looks pricey, from what I gather from their website.

So if you are stuck in Manila during the rainy season, ACE Water Spa seems to be a good place to take your kids. Although at this moment, Manileños are enjoying (?) the summer heat. What I would not give for a glass of halo-halo!

Ace Water Spa

United St. cor. Brixton St. near Pioneer, Pasig City

and 399 Del Monte Avenue (near cor. Banaue St.) SFDM, Quezon City

Open from 6 AM to 10 PM (weekdays) or 11 PM (weekends)

Entrance 550 Php Adults, 250 Php for children under 4 ft.


How do You Solve A Problem Like Torta?

Tortang Talong (eggplant or aubergine) with Banana Ketchup and freshly steamed rice is definitely my favorite Filipino dish. Heck, anything with eggplant is pretty rad in my book. Based on the Spanish Torta, which is a kind of omelette, Tortang Talong is a meat omelette with aubergine as a base.

Whenever I could get my hands on Chinese aubergines, which are thin and long, compared to the rotund European variety, I always make Torta. Torta is 250 g ground pork, mixed and mashed together with 1 finely diced carrot, half of a finely chopped onion, a clove of garlic, salt and pepper, and an egg as binder. This should do for 2-3 eggplants. I like burning off the skin from the eggplant, giving it a smoky flavor. Peel off the burned skin, press it flat with a fork, and add the meat filling on top. Adding some roasted sesame oil adds a great flavor dimension.

eggplantMy dilemma is that the meat never cooks fast enough! I’ll end up with burnt eggplant flesh and egg before the meat even starts to change color. I’ve seen our cooks splash the hot oil over the eggplant, but this technique just turns the omelette oily. I’ve tried turning the eggplant over meat side, but it always falls apart.

Should I try cooking it next time meat side down?