Thursday, September 26, 2013

Braised Black Pepper Pork

DFJ and I went to New Jersey to visit my aunt a few weekends ago. She spoiled us with lots of delicious Filipino food, which rekindled my hunger for foods that remind me of home.

Upon our return, I made mung bean stew which turned out really wonderful and reminded me of my mom’s recipe. Unfortunately, since it was a test run and made from intuition, the process was not recorded. Someday soon, I hope to make it again. Since our visit, I have made DFJ’s favorite, ground beef with go chu jang (Korean red pepper paste), a soba noodle dish with stir fried veggies, and lots of rice.

Today, I will share a recipe that is reminiscent of lechon paksiw (a vinegar stew of leftover roasted pig). Lechon Paksiw is one of my favorite Filipino foods. Whenever Filipinos have big parties or celebrate important events, lechon or roasted pig is often the main star. The best part about having a lechon at a party is the leftover that is turned into a paksiw (anything cooked for a long time with vinegar). Although this recipe is not quite a paksiw, it certainly reminds me of it.

First of all this dish has a sort-of-sweet, hunger-inducing aroma. The sauce, which has a good dose of tamari and fish sauce, is perfectly salted. It is also infused with the cool spiciness of ginger that hits you in the most pleasantly surprising way. The black pepper makes it slightly spicy, just enough to make you feel a little tingle in the back of your throat. The pork is well-flavored with all the elements that it was cooking in and is amazingly soft and tender.

I recommend making some rice to go along with this dish and then spooning a bit (or a lot) of the sauce over your rice. When you do so, it gives your whole meal a lot of authenticity. Us, Filipinos, like to pour soup and sauces over rice, even the sauces that are shiny with pork fat bubbles (like this one). But that’s what makes it so damn good! When we were in New Jersey, my cousin mentioned that he likes food that has soul in it. And to me, this one does… it tastes like a dish you long for when you are far, far away and homesick for your mom and her cooking. When I savored bite after bite of this during dinner last night, I felt like I have gone back to my childhood home where delicious smells of food always wafted from the kitchen, morning, noon, or night.

Braised Black Pepper Pork (Makes 4 servings)
Adapted from: The Food and Cooking of Malaysia and Singapore, Indonesia and The Philippines by Ghille Basan, Terry Tan, and Vilma Laus

4 cups water
2 tablespoons tamari (soy sauce)
2 tablespoons fish sauce
½ teaspoon salt
2 bay leaves
2 leeks, sliced in thin rounds (remove unedible parts)
1.25 oz ginger, peeled and sliced thin
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tablespoon freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon sugar
1.25 lbs pork chops, chopped into cubes, bones included (2 pork chops)

Combine the water, tamari, fish sauce, salt, bay leaves, and leeks in a medium size cooking pot. Turn the heat on to medium and bring to a boil.

When this flavored mixture boils, add in the ginger, garlic, black pepper, sugar, and pork chops. Stir well to move the ingredients around in the pot. Turn the heat down to medium low and cover the pot. Cook for an hour, stirring occasionally. When it starts to boil, just open the lid a bit and continue to cook. After one hour, remove the lid and cook for another 30 minutes, uncovered. Stir occasionally.

This is so good served with rice and some stir-fried veggies. So, while this is cooking, make some rice, then prep, and stir-fry your veggies. 

If you need recipes for stir-fried veggies, feel free to browse around here. I have tons! 

Hope you will love this dish as much as we did!      

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Honey Granola

And just like that, fall is upon us. Back in Eastern Washington there were barely any trees and thus the beauty of fall only lasts for about two weeks, three at the most. For non-Washington state peeps, there is a part of Washington that does not get any rain… Eastern, WA is a desert.

However, here on the East Coast, I am noticing a very gradual change. One tree today or some clumps of trees the next, and even the leaves on those trees seem to be changing ever so slowly, like they’re resisting the natural order of things. I love their stubbornness!

It has been considerably colder too, even in the middle of the day. So, our air-conditioning has been turned off for two weeks now. We are not turning the heater on yet. It’s too early for that and too expensive. I have been walking around the house with my coat on and when it gets unbearably cold, I turn on the oven and start baking. It’s cheap heat with the plus of body nourishment or sweet tooth satisfaction.

I turned the oven on a week and a half ago to bake up a batch of granola. Yes friends, it is another granola recipe in this blog. I LOVE granola and I hope you do too! Pardon me for holding out on sharing… I didn’t have any good stories to tell and I still don’t, but here is the recipe anyway.

This granola is long gone. The last bit of it was happily consumed last Wednesday, so my memory of how it tasted is pretty vague. I typed the recipe though the very same day I baked this batch because it is worthy of sharing. The first few bits that I scooped into my palm were just meant for checking whether they tasted great or not. And then I found myself going back into the kitchen several times while it was cooling in the pan to eat a few more and then some more. DFJ and I also looked forward to granola breakfasts when we had this around. There’s nothing like some great granola waiting for you to make you pop out of bed!

Granola is great eaten by the handful or with either milk or yogurt. They also make for great work snacks or lunches. Just put however much you want to eat in a container and add on your yogurt of choice (I like plain Greek yogurt), stir it up, and put it in the fridge when you get to work. It’s a delicious and filling cold treat! And in case you haven’t tried doing so yet, granola also adds a nice crunch when sprinkled on top of ice cream.  

Something sweet and crunchy, on the healthy side! 

Honey Granola

3 cups oats
1 cup slivered almonds (raw)
1 cup pumpkin seeds (unsalted, raw)
1 cup chopped walnuts (raw)
¼ cup sugar
¾ teaspoon Kosher salt
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup honey
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup dried figs, cut in eighths (optional, or can be substituted with any dried fruit)

Place an oven rack in the middle position. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.

In a large, roasting pan, combine the oats, almonds, pumpkin seeds, and walnuts. Use your hands (or a flexible spatula) to mix everything together. Sprinkle on the sugar and salt. Once again, use your hands (or a flexible spatula) to mix everything together.

Pour the olive oil, honey, and vanilla extract in a medium sized bowl. Whisk well together until it forms into a thick slurry.

Add the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix everything well together using a flexible spatula. Scrape the ingredients on the bottom and sides to make sure everything gets moistened with the oil and honey mix. Spread the mixture evenly in the pan.

Bake in the oven for 15 minutes. Remove, stir, and bake for another 15 minutes. Do this one more time for a total baking time of 45 minutes. Turn the oven off. Remove pan from the oven, stir in the chopped figs, and place the granola in the still hot oven for another 10 minutes to let it dry a bit more. The granola should be golden brown and nicely toasted. Remove from the oven, give it another stir, and allow to cool completely in the pan for a few hours. Store in an airtight container.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Summer 2013 Part 4: Bend, Oregon

BEND, Oregon. Where do I even begin talking about Bend? Perhaps, I should tell you that DFJ and I are seriously considering a move to this town in the future. Just leave everything we have and live in Bend for the rest of our lives.

DFJ being awesome.

Two of my good friends, Emily and Lori, love Bend! So, of course I asked them for advice on which places to go to Bend and we basically went off with their things-to-do-in-Bend list.  The list didn’t disappoint. Today, I will pass on the list to you because I love you.

Before I do that though, let me tell you some real-life stories to validate my infatuation with this town. We ran across locals who told us their stories and the gist was: they moved to Bend for how awesome it is, not for the money and not for opportunities.

There was that couple from Alaska, the husband is an engineer and the wife is a criminal attorney. They were both successful with their careers in Alaska and knew nothing about Bend. One day, they decided to sell pretty much everything they owned and packed their essentials plus some horses and moved to Bend. He found a job immediately while she started off as a ski instructor. Now, she’s back in her criminal law game.

There was that guy who used to be a nationwide mountain bike champion. He moved to Bend because of everything in nature that it has to offer. This dude doesn’t have the fanciest career. He basically repairs bikes here and there and works full time at a farm market, but he is very happy living his dream. And since his championship days, he hung up his bike, and is perfectly happy playing rugby and trying out different sports (Bend offers so much variety).

There was that yoga teacher from Richland, WA (which was where we were prior to our move). She moved to Bend because it is a pretty amazing place to live in.

everyone in the car show stayed at our motel 

Bend is a small town in the middle of nowhere in Oregon. You basically have to drive up a desert mountain area for hours on end and Bend will eventually appear like a mirage. You might even see the mountain peaks of Bachelor or the Three Sisters if the clouds part when you drive in. By the way, Mt. Bachelor and Three Sisters… isn’t that the cutest mountain names you’ve ever heard?

If you choose to hang out downtown, you can spend all day walking in and out of the cute shops (outdoor adventure gear, bookstores, artsy stores selling local crafts, art galleries, etc). The food in Bend is great! Pretty much everyone in the food business over there care about the quality of food that they serve and are into serving local, organic, and fresh food. There are so many great restaurants to choose from and DFJ and I had really good experiences in all the places we went to. Um, beer anyone? Great breweries abound in Bend, they even have a Bend Ale Trail (if you’re interested in craft beers). Yoga everywhere! Lots of choices for different styles of yoga. I only went to one class and I enjoyed it.

runner, beer tourists on a 6-person bike (it's normal inOregon)

The outdoors, oh my! There are countless miles of gorgeous hiking trails in the Deschutes National Forest as well as mountain bike trails. Skiing is a big thing there too in the winter. Smith Rock is a haven for rock climbers, hard core or newbies. There’s also good hiking there, which you must be prepared for… LOTS of water, a HAT, and SNACKS. Bend also offers water sports, there’s kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, tubing, floating, and rafting in the river. Need I say more?


Crow’s Feet: This is a fun place to hang out and meet people. They have coffee, beer, some pastries, bikes, and skis. They also rent and fix bikes. Such a random business combination but so awesome.

Barrio: They have amazing food… think fried plantain sandwiches with pork carnitas; giant shrimp over a bed of delicious eggplant with tomato sauce; curried cauliflower in tomato confit; and so on… Everything was delicious! Drinks are great too! I recommend going there during happy hour… best happy hour ever!

10 Barrel Brewing Company: GREAT beer! GREAT atmosphere… campfires outside, barrels to set your drinks on as you visit with strangers, communal tables, outdoor bar, super cool vibe. They have delicious pizza too!

La Magie Bakery and Café: Cute place for breakfast and a nice selection of pastries.

Thump Coffee: Calling all coffee lovers!!! This is the place for you. Do not look elsewhere in Bend. For the chai tea lovers, they make their own chai tea and it tastes like no other. Very fresh and full of delicious spices. None of that powdered $#!+ that coffee places call chai tea elsewhere.

Jackson’s Corner: Super quaint place with simply delicious food. They also have a great drink selection from juices, to kombucha, to beer. We had their pulled pork bun that was top of the line and an amazing roasted beet with bacon and honey mayo sandwich. Grab some lunch there, hang out, bring a book, bask in the sun. Seriously the place is bright and airy with lots of sun coming in. I love the wooden tables and the modern yet homey vibe that they have.

Thai on the Fly: Food cart style! Super delicious, fast, and cheap. We happened upon this cart on a “First Friday” night and there was a street festival in town (they do this every first Friday of the month), so we got some free coconut rum punch from the optical place next to it and listened to some music while enjoying our Thai food.

Dump City Dumplings: This kid knows how to make them dumplings. Trust me, I’m Asian and I know what a good dumpling is. TRY IT!

Gelato at Powell’s: Perfect dessert to end a day of adventures.

Parilla Grill: Fast-food style, out of this world sandwiches and burritos. I had the blackened salmon with cilantro-lime rice and it totally hit the spot. They also brew their own kombucha and it’s pretty darn good!

Good Life Brewery: Another good spot for local brews!

Sparrow Bakery: I fell in love with this artisan bakery. It is in a little brick building next to a pottery studio in an obscure part of town. Don’t let that deter you though, because this place is so charming and they have great breads, croissants, and desserts. The coffee was pretty good too!

Townshend’s Tea: Apparently Townshend’s has various locations in Oregon, mainly in the Portland area. They have a great tea selection and I loved my matcha tea.

Planker Sandwiches: This tight, little sandwich place rocks at sandwich making. We ordered their pulled pork sandwich with apple chutney and mustard and it was awesome. I wish we ordered another one but silly me didn’t think I would starve that much after hiking Smith Rock (boy, was I wrong!).

Huckleberry Ice Cream at the little store right by Smith Rock State Park: Celebrate being alive and not sliding down the cliff after hiking Smith Rock by gorging on some ice cream. My friend recommended the huckleberry ice cream and I loved it. DFJ got the chocolate ice cream and it was also great.

* Nearby Bend, OR is the town of Sunriver. I recommend checking out the shopping area there and beer tasting at Sunriver Brewery. They have pretty decent Portobello burgers!

Activities/Outdoor Adventures: (There are a million things to do in Bend. This is just a short list of what we did.)

Do the river walk and enjoy the beautiful scenery in Downtown Bend. Go in and check out the cute/quirky shops, you can easily spend an entire day doing this. Walk around town and check out the cute neighborhoods.

Yoga. There are lots of yoga studios in Bend. As we were limited in time, I only went to one class at Juniper Yoga. I know that we should focus inwards during yoga but I gotta say, Bend yogis are hardcore!

Drive through Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway in the Deschutes National Forest.

Hike the Tumalo Mountain Trail. It is a pretty steep hike but is only 3 miles round trip. You will be rewarded with gorgeous views of Mt. Bachelor and the Three Sisters!

Drive to Sunriver and check out the Lava Tube. If you’re a big fan of caves and walking in the dark, you will enjoy this. I am a scaredy cat and whined the whole time but my husband loves me and conceded to turn after about half a mile in the cave. To truly enjoy the experience, rent a lamp… don’t scrimp (like we did), otherwise you will be miserable with just headlamps and a makeshift flashlight. Wear closed shoes and bring a jacket too, it’s cold in there! Check out the shopping/recreation/restaurant area in Sunriver too. It's neat!

Drive around some more in the Deschutes National Forest. Explore and hike around Little Lava Lake and Lava Lake. Then stop for pictures at Elk Lake (also a great place for kayaking or canoeing).

Hike to Green Lake. This is a beautiful trail with a rushing creek next to you and a waterfall a little ways ahead. Unfortunately, we never got to Green Lakes because it started getting dark.

Hike Misery Ridge at Smith Rock. This is a toughie even though it’s short. I’m a strong uphill hiker but a chicken when it comes to hiking down. There’s this silly fear that I have of slipping and falling off the edge of the cliff and this fear overpowers my will sometimes (ok, more often than I would like to admit). This hike was pretty amazing though and you should try it if you’re in Bend. The view from the top is breathtaking. Bring plenty of water and lots of snacks (especially in the middle of summer) because there is no shade and the sun is relentless. Also, don’t go to a yoga class prior to this hike otherwise you will have a bad case of jelly legs. If you are a big fan of rock climbing, this place is your heaven! Rock climbing is not for me but I had fun watching the climbers and marveling at their courage.

Ooops, this got way too lengthy. SORRY! I just really want to convince you to go to Bend. Are you sold yet?