FIlipino Style Spaghetti

FIlipino Style Spaghetti

I love being an Aunt and I’m fortunate enough to have three gorgeous nephews who I can return after a few hours of babysitting! I previously wrote about my eldest nephew when I did a post on making sushi rolls a few years ago. Since then, two other little boys, James and William, have come into our family. Its fascinating to watch James handle his little brother. I still remember the first time James laid eyes on William. He came into the maternity room with his father, looked at the little bundle, then looked at his Mum, and then back to his brother and then to his Mum again as if to say “what have you done?!?!” Luckily he quickly warmed up to William, constantly trying to give him a cuddle and kiss. It should be loads of fun to watch them grow up together but I suspect though that James will find a way to put the blame on William for any mischief them may get into. When I ask him “who is naughty?”, James loves to say, “bro-da”!

James and his baby brother Wills

James and his baby brother Wills

One of James’ favourite food is spaghetti. He also has a penchant for anything sweet (like his Mum). I suspect James would love Filipino Style Spaghetti which was the Kulinarya Club’s dish for the month of October. Purists out there need not read any further as the recipe below is enough to give any Italian grandmother a heart attack. Filipinos have taken the traditional bolognese recipe and put their own twist to it. So what makes it so different? A few things come to mind. First, the sauce is sweetened by the addition of sugar and some recipes will also include ketchup (banana or tomato) Second, is the that the recipe includes chopped hotdogs. The recipe is not going to win any awards for traditional cuisine but kids love it! In fact, it’s so popular that it’s become a staple in children’s parties and even Mc Donalds in the Philippines have created their own version called the Mc Spaghetti.

So here is my recipe. I have to admit that I couldn’t bring myself to use ketchup in this recipe but otherwise, it’s pretty much how I remember it tasting. A little quirky, but every little bit of it delicious.

Filipino Style Spaghetti

Serves 6

  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 red pepper, diced
  • 500 grams beef mince
  • 230 grams hot dog (your favourite brand)
  • 50 grams tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 400 grams pasta sauce (your favourite brand)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup grated cheese
  • 1 package of dried spaghetti noodles
  1. Heat the oil in a large pot and add the onions and garlic. Saute over low heat for around 5 minutes until the onions turn translucent.
  2. Add the red peppers and again saute until softened, around 5 to 10 minutes.
  3. Add the beef and cook over medium high heat until cooked then add the chopped hot dogs and the tomato paste.
  4. At this point, season with salt and pepper and add the sugar. Stir the mixture well and add the tomato sauce. Allow to cook for around 15 minutes over a low heat.
  5. In the meantime, prepare the pasta as per directions on the packet. Drain the water from the pasta. When the sauce and pasta is done, spoon the sauce over the spaghetti noodles.
  6. Serve with cheese.
FIlipino Style Spaghetti

FIlipino Style Spaghetti

Twice Cooked Pork Belly

Twice Cooked Pork Belly

The other week I received a rather curious comment from my husband. He said he wanted to learn to make pork belly.

“You aren’t ready.” I told him. I thought that a good pork belly, the one with really crispy crackling combined with melt in your mouth meat and a rich gravy was something only experienced cooks attempted.

But he insisted to make it for dinner and I said, knowing the failure to come, that I would have nothing to do with making the dish.

So off he went to buy the pork belly and every so often I’d get a text asking for advice. “What knife to use to score the pork belly? Knife not sharp enough??” or “Where is the thyme in the garden?” and “How do I turn on the oven?”. The questions were getting scarier and scarier and so I chose to ignore the messages and decided to go with plan B, and buy take away.

I knew I had made the right decision when I got home a few hours later. The kitchen counter was as clean as I had left it that morning and I thought that He must have aborted the project mid-way. I was impressed though that he had cleaned up.

Come dinner time however, he pulled this big slab of pork belly from the refrigerator and started portioning the meat into generous servings, ready to crisp the pork skin in the oven.

“Uhm, where’d you get that?” I asked him. Surely he didn’t make it. Did he?

Turns out, you can pretty much learn how to cook anything from You Tube. He had found a video of Gordon Ramsay making a twice cooked pressed belly of pork and proceeded to make his own. What can I say – I was humbled. It was exceptional. He even made a gravy and cauliflower and apple mash to go with it!

I learned a lot of things from my husband that day. First, when someone says you can’t do something, challenge it. Second, never underestimate a person’s abilities and third and most important lesson – my husband makes a mean pressed belly of pork!

Gordon Ramsay’s Pressed Belly of Pork

  • 1 kilo of pork belly (ribs removed), scored – it is easier to ask your butcher to do this
  • 2 bulbs of garlic, sliced in half horizontally
  • a few sprigs of thyme
  • White wine (enough so that it covers the roasting pan during the cooking process plus a little more to deglaze the pan when done)
  • 500 ml chicken stock
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 160c (fan forced, add 20c if the oven is not fan forced)
  2. Season the pork belly generously with salt, pepper and olive oil.
  3. Place the garlic in a roasting pan and the thyme on top of the garlic. Place the pork belly on top of the thyme.
  4. Cook the pork belly for 2 hours. When done, remove and set aside to rest.
  5. Place the roasting pan over the stove top (be careful as the pan will still be hot. Deglaze the roasting pan with a generous splash of white wine and allow to reduce by for around 2 to 3 minutes. Add the chicken stock and allow to reduce the liquid by half. Sieve the sauce into a pan, making sure to press the garlic through the sieve as much as you can so the sauce is infused with the garlic. Set aside
  6. Place the pork on a tray and place another tray on top of the pork belly. Press down on the top tray and place some weights (i.e. some cans from your pantry) on top of the tray to weigh it down. Refrigerate for at least 6 hours.
  7. When the pork is ready, pre-heat the oven to 240c (fan forced). Slice the belly of pork into 4 to 6 portions of smaller squares and cook for around 15 minutes until the skin crisps. While the pork is cooking, heat the gravy. To serve, place the pork on a bed of cauliflower-apple mash and pour the gravy around the pork.

Paella Negra 2.0

Arroz Negro (Paella with Squid Ink)

Arroz Negro (Paella with Squid Ink)

My new TV obsession is The Newsroom, an HBO drama that depicts behind the scenes events of an American Cable News company. I’m hooked on the dialogue and have grown fond of the characters (well, most of them anyway). I think however, what appeals to me most, is how everyone in the team seems to be committed to reinvent cable television news. At the end of the fourth episode entitled “I’ll Try to Fix You”, the news anchor, Will McAvoy is meant to choose between running with an unconfirmed news report that all other channels have called, or wait until the news has been verified. He chooses, despite being pressured from upper management, to wait, which was actually the better thing to do since the report was proved false.

While the drama ensues, Coldplay’s song Fix You starts playing in the background and I’ll be the first to admit a few tears were shed which I was furiously trying to hide from my husband.

The episode made me think about how there is always hope and, if we wanted to, it’s never too late to re-invent ourselves.

It also made me think about some of the older dishes that I’ve made on this blog. A while back I made a paella with squid ink called Paella Negra. It’s been a long time since I made it and while I remember the dish tasting delicious, the picture never did the dish justice.

So here is the new and improved version of Paella Negra. This recipe comes from Frank Camorra of Movida Restaurant in Melbourne. Here is: Paella Negra 2.0.

Arroz Negro (Paella with Squid Ink)

Paella Negra (Paella with Squid Ink)

Arroz Negro (Paella with Squid Ink)

Serves 6 to 8
Recipe from Frank Camorra

  • 5 vine-ripened tomatoes, scored
  • 125 ml olive oil
  • 500 grams squid, cleaned and cut into 2.5 cm squares
  • 12 pieces prawns, peeled and deveined
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 8 grams squid ink (available from delicatessens)
  • 200 ml dry white wine
  • 400 grams bomba rice
  • 1.2 litres hot fish stock
  1. Blanch the tomatoes in a saucepan of boiling water until the skin starts to blister, around 30 seconds, then place in a bowl of iced water to refresh. Peel and dice the tomatoes, then set aside.
  2. Heat 50 ml of the olive oil in a 30-34 cm paella pan over high heat. Add the squid and the prawns and cook for about a minute on each side, making sure to season. Remove and set aside.
  3. Add the rest of the olive oil along with the onion and the garlic. Cook over low heat until translucent, around 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook another 5 minutes over low heat. Now, add the white wine and continue to cook for another 15 minutes until the mixture thickens.
  4. Increase the heat to medium and add the rice. Cook the rice for about 1 to 2 minutes, stirring continuously. Now, pour in the hot stock and mix well. Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium immediately and add the squid on top of the rice (save a few pieces for topping). Cook the rice for 10 minutes. The rice should have now expanded a little so reduce the heat back to low if the flame doesn’t cover the base of the pan. Move the pan around during cooking to allow the paella to cook evenly for 10 minutes.
  5. Before removing from the stove, add the prawns and the some of the saved squid and cook on high for about 1 minute to help form a crust on the bottom of the pan. Remove from the heat and cover with foil for 10 minutes. Serve warm.

On another note, I’m about to undergo a change myself! I’m so excited to let you know I’ve signed up for Pantene’s Beautiful Lengths Campaign. The campaign is to donate real hair to make wigs for women undergoing cancer treatment. National Haircut Week is from 12 to 18 November. If you are interested to learn more about this campaign, please click here.

Kung Pao Chicken

Kung Pao Chicken

Kung Pao Chicken

A few weeks ago, my sister and I attended the 40th anniversary of our parish priests Father Joe and Father John. Both had been priests for 40 years and the community wanted celebrate this significant event with a special dinner. That night we watched a slide show that had been prepared of both priests throughout the years. It was actually quite touching to see how much a part of our lives they both were, especially on momentous occasions like baptisms, first communions, weddings etc. After the slide show, a number of people were asked to speak in honour of each of the priests. One of them was an elderly gentleman. This gentleman had actually been in the hospital for a few weeks but was given special permission to leave the hospital for three hours that day and he chose to spend it at this dinner.

The gentleman walked slowly to the podium and started talking about each of them. He talked about how Father John had come here many years ago from Vietnam, was fluent in French and had been offered a number of times to be promoted and move to head other parishes but he stayed put because he loved being part of this community. Father Joe on the other hand was an avid collector of anything and everything and had a weakness for auctions. He also loved gardening and was instrumental in ensuring that priests, when retired, were taken cared of.

It made me realize that there was very little I knew of both of them.

At the end of his speech, this gentleman asked us to reflect on the fact that whilst both priests had devoted their lives to serving the church and the community, no one was really there to take care of them. Might we, he asked, consider inviting them for tea one day?

I immediately put a note on my calendar to invite them over for dinner one day.

The thing is, prior to that speech, I had been seeing Father Joe every morning at the park where I walked my dog. Our interactions had always been limited to me waving to him and saying “Good morning Father!” and him giving me a friendly nod as he walked past me.

One day, I passed Father Joe as he was stretching before his walk, and, as I had done for a number of years, said “Hi Father Joe!” He gave me a friendly wave and I went on my way. A few steps later I decided to turn back. Why not invite Father Joe for dinner this weekend? I said to myself.

So I turned around and ran back to him. “Father, would you like to have dinner at my house?” I asked.

He looked at me, and his eyes widened in surprise. “Me?” he asked.

“Yes Father!” I said. “Maybe this weekend?”

“Me?” he repeated.

“Yes yes!” I insisted. He looked really confused.

And then I looked at him closely… and then I got confused.

“Are you… Father Joe?” I asked.

He looked amused and shook his head. “No, I’m not.”

“Oh my God! I’m so sorry…That’s what happens when you don’t pay attention at mass!” I told him and quickly said good bye.

When I do finally get to invite Father Joe, Kung Pao chicken is the dish I am going to make.

The recipe is from Rasa Malaysia’s Cookbook “Easy Chinese Recipes”.  It has quickly become one of our favourite dishes to make.   I’m normally not a fan of chicken breast meat as I find it too dry.  Bee however shares her secret for super tender chicken breast – that is, marinating the chicken in baking soda for a few minutes  then washing it off .  Beware!  This dish is highly addictive – think remarkably tender chicken pieces coated in a spicy, tingly, sweet and sour sauce.   I’m sure that when the REAL Father Joe tastes it, the only comment he’ll have is “Oh… My… God!”  :)

Rasa Malaysia’s Kung Pao Chicken

For the Kung Pao Chicken

  • 250 grams skinless chicken breast, cut into cubes
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon chinese rice wine
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch or potato flour
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1 tablespoon sichuan peppercorn oil
  • 1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
  • 2.5 cm piece of ginger, peeled and thinly sliced (we used a mandolin)
  • 10 to 15 dried red chillies
  • 3 heaping tablespoons peanuts or cashew nuts
  • 1 green onion, trimmed and cut into small rounds

For the sauce

  • 1.5 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon dark soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon chinese black vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon chinese rice wine
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 3 dashes of white pepper
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch or potato flour

For the peppercorn oil

  • 1/4 cup sichuan peppercorns
  • 125 ml oil
  1. Make the sichuan peppercorn oil by heating the oil until very hot and the oil becomes shiny. Turn off the heat and add the sichuan peppercorns, mixing with chopsticks to release their aroma. Allow to cool and let the peppercorns infuse their flavour into the oil for around 2 hours. This step can be done ahead of time.
  2. To roast the peanuts or cashew, pre-heat the oven to 160c and place the nuts into an over proof bowl. Roast the nuts for around 25 minutes until golden brown. Set aside. This step can also be made ahead of time.
  3. Tenderize the chicken breasts by placing the chicken in a container and mixing the baking soda into the meat, making sure the chicken is evenly coated. Leave to marinate for 15 minutes. Once done, rinse the chicken very well in cold running water. Drain the chicken breasts and pat dry.
  4. Marinate the chicken in the rice wine and cornstarch (or potato flour) for 10 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, mix all the ingredients of the sauce together.
  6. Heat the oil in a wok or frying pan over high heat and stir fry the chicken until opaque and half cooked. Remove from the pan and set aside.
  7. Add the peppercorn oil and stir fry the ginger and the garlic for a few seconds then add the dried red chillies for around 30 seconds or until their aroma is released. Add back the chicken and give it a good stir.
  8. Add the sauce which will thicken and coat the chicken nicely. Finally, add the peanuts and the green onions. Serve immediately with a bowl of steamed rice.
Lamb Ragu with Capsicums

Lamb Ragu with Capsicums

One of the Italian restaurants that my husband and I love  is A Tavola in Darlinghurst.  The restaurant serves fantastic Italian fare and is famous for their handmade pasta and the beautiful sauces that go with it.  When I learned that the CIRA cooking school was having Eugenio Maiale, who is chef and owner of A Tavola to teach “The Art and Sculpture of Pasta”, I knew couldn’t miss it.   Pasta is something I’ve made before, but my husband has always wanted to learn and who better to teach than the chef of our one of our favourite restaurants?  So for over three hours on Saturday morning we learned from Chef Eugenio and his team a basic pasta recipe and how to shape them into pappardelle, farfalle, capelletti, mezzalune and tortellini to name a few.    It was such a treat to watch him and his team talk about pasta with so much passion.

One of the unforgettable dishes we  made that day was Maccheroni alla chittara con ragu d’agnello e peperoni.  This was a typical dish from Abruzzo, where Eugenio’s family came from.  The “chittara” is a special rectangular wooden board with wire strings attached to it.  The sheets of dough are placed on the board and then a pressed through the strings with a rolling pin to create strands of pasta.  The ragu, made with lamb and capsicums, is simply out of this world.  My husband loved it so much that he went up to Eugenio to ask for seconds. And,  as if two bowls wasn’t enough, tonight we made the ragu again using the freshly made rigatoni that the chefs at A Tavola gave us to take home!

So here is Eugenio’s recipe.  If you’d like to learn more from Eugenio, you can check out his videos here.

Lamb Ragu with Capsicums

Lamb Ragu with Capsicums

Ragu of Lamb and Capsicums

From Eugenio Maiale, A Tavola

  • 500 grams lamb shoulder, trimmed of fat and sinew, cut into 2.5 cm pieces
  • 1.5 teaspoons salt
  • pinch pepper
  • 50 ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 2 fresh bay leaves
  • 250 ml dry white wine
  • 100 ml chicken stock
  • 400 grams canned Italian tomatoes, diced
  • 1 red capsicum, cut into long thin strips
  • 1 yellow capsicum, cut into long thin strips
  • 1 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh parsley
  • 400 grams dried pasta (i.e. penne) or 2 quantities of this fresh pasta recipe
  1. Toss the lamb in a bowl with the salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate at least 30 minutes.
  2. Heat a large frying pan over high heat, add oil, when hot add the lamb. Brown the lamb all over, this will take around 5 to 7 minutes. Make sure to stir often. Add the garlic and the bay leaves and cook for another minute.
  3. Add the wine and stir well to remove any bits at the bottom of the pan.
  4. Once the wine has evaporated, add the tomatoes and the stock.
  5. Allow the sauce to simmer around 30 minutes, then add the capsicums. Allow the ragu to simmer for another 1 to 1 and a half hours, until soft.
  6. To serve, cook the pasta, add the sauce and top with the cheese and chopped parsley.
Penne Pasta with Chicken, Bacon and Mustard Sauce

Penne Pasta with Chicken, Bacon and Mustard Sauce

This pasta dish makes regular appearances in our home.  It was given to me by my Aunt Jenni – who has a reputation for dishing some of the most delicious yet simple to prepare meals.  I have a feeling she may have adapted it from a Jamie Oliver but I’m not entirely sure.  In any case, this is our adaptation.  The original recipe uses roast chicken, but we’ve substituted smoked chicken instead.  The addition of mustard is something unusual but it does provides some oomph.  In any case, this can be prepared in 30 minutes or less and is great for a quick weeknight meal.

Penne Pasta with Smoked Chicken, Bacon, Peas and Mustard Sauce

Serves 4

  • 500 grams penne
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 2 rashers bacon (around 175 grams), rind removed, cut into 1 cm pieces
  • 2 smoked chicken drumsticks (around 450 grams), cut into 1 cm pieces
  • 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
  • 100 grams parmesan cheese
  • 75 grams frozen baby peas
  • 200 ml cream
  1. Bring a pot of water to the boil for the pasta.
  2. Heat the olive oil and add the diced onions and garlic, cook out until translucent, around 5 minutes over a medium heat.
  3. Add the bacon rashers and cook for about 5 minutes, add the chicken, mustard and finally the cream. Allow the sauce to simmer around 10 minutes to thicken.
  4. In the meantime, salt the water and add the pasta once the water comes to a boil. Cook as per the directions on the box.
  5. Once the pasta sauce has simmered, add the parmesan cheese and peas.
  6. When the pasta has cooked, drain and add to the sauce. Serve immediately.
Roast Duck with Mandarin Pancakes

Roast Duck with Mandarin Pancakes

Tucked away in the Gateway Building on the corner of Pitt and Alfred Streets is Neptune Palace.  “Neppi’s” is somewhat of an institution in the banking and finance circles. In typical Malaysian/Chinese restaurant fashion, the menu is extensive with at least 140 items to choose from.   Having said that, there are a number of requisite dishes that we always order like the “Rusty Motorbike”, Seafood Sang Choy Bau, Kapitan Chicken and the Duck Pancakes.  These are the reliable dishes that people come back for over and over again in the almost twenty years that this restaurant has been in operation.

Post the roast chicken he made the other day, we decided to try and re-create a few of our favourite dishes from this restaurant.  We liked the way they served their Duck Pancakes.  Whilst most Chinese restaurants will serve mostly the skin and very little meat, Neppi’s is a little different in that there is a generous amount of fried duck meat and of course, a decent amount of crispy skin.  I actually prefer the Mandarin Pancakes this way.  Rather than purchasing a whole duck, it made more sense for us to buy two duck breasts for this recipe.

So we marinated the duck breasts overnight in a teaspoon of five spice powder, two tablespoons of maple syrup and two tablespoons of soy sauce.  Then we sous vide the duck breasts at 57c for an hour and finally pan fried skin side down to get it all nice and extra crispy.  In the meantime, we prepared the Mandarin Pancakes (recipe below).  My husband is proving to be a better cook that I imagined!

To serve, we sliced up some of the duck, whilst the rest, we diced and fried it a little bit more.

The dishes we order at Neppi’s remind me sometimes of the very good friends I have.  There are over 140 dishes in the Neppi’s menu but we keep coming back to the dishes we know we can trust.  Similarly, of all the many friends I have, there are only a handful that I know I can rely on, no matter what.

Roast Duck with Mandarin Pancakes

Roast Duck with Mandarin Pancakes

Mandarin Pancakes

Recipe adapted from Neil Perry’s Rockpool

  • 400 grams plain flour
  • 190 ml boiling water
  • pinch salt
  • 65 ml cold water
  • sesame oil for rolling
  1. Place the flour, water and salt in a bowl of a stand mixer and using a dough hook, turn on to medium speed until the dough comes together in a ball.
  2. Remove the dough from the bowl and knead lightly on a lightly oiled surface for around 5 minutes until the ball of dough is smooth and springs back when pressed.
  3. Place the dough back in the bowl and cover with a damp cloth towel and allow to rest for 30 minutes.
  4. When the dough has rested, place it back on a lightly oiled surface and cut the dough in half. Keep one covered with a damp cloth and roll the other half into a long sausage. Cut the dough into 10 equal pieces.
  5. Press each piece down with the palm of your hand and then brush each piece with sesame oil. Place one piece of dough on top of the other so that the oiled sides are facing each other and then roll each pair of pancakes out to a diameter of 10 cm. Repeat with the rest of a pieces. Now, do the same with the rest of the dough. Place the rolled pieces of dough on top of each other in a plate and cover with a damp cloth.
  6. Heat a frying pan over medium heat. Place the pancake in the pan and dry fry for around 20 to 30 seconds or until you can see faint brown spots start to appear. You will also notice the dough puff up as it cooks.
  7. Flip the pancakes to the other side to cook again, another 15 to 20 seconds.
  8. Remove the pancakes from the heat and carefully pull them apart after a minute or so (allowing the pancakes to cool down a bit).
  9. The pancakes can be stored on a plate covered with a damp cloth before serving. They can also be stored in the freezer and heated in a warm oven before serving.
  10. To assemble, lay a pancake on a plate, spread over with hoisin sauce, sliced of green onions and cucumbers.

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