30 minutes from scratch

I look into the sunset and the glow just feels right, even though the summer heat was creeping into every pore of my body. To figure out what is for dinner is a daily challenge, as most people would experience that there is very little time to prepare a meal, much less for more than one person. With all the advances in technology that has created numerous time-saving gadgets and processes, we seem to have less time than before.


So it is out of necessity that people look to quick recipes, short cuts and the throw-everything-together mantra. You must understand that cooking food, good food, requires serious thought and contemplation. That cooks long before you have struggled to discover ingredients, techniques and innuendos into recipes for future reference. Canned goods, prepared foods, mass produced sauces, etc. are only good for two things: Consistency and for the idiot cook. Consistency is what a real cook strives for each and every time he makes a dish. But only because a real cook knows the principles behind the cooking. The idiot cook, on the other hand, believes that he will never fail a recipe because what comes out of the can will always be the same. Mind you, a lot of professional cooks used canned produce for the sole reason of consistency. And they can produce magic from it. Prepare good food. And more often than not that canned produce will never be the main focus of a meal.

So here is a recipe made from scratch, and can be done in less than 30 minutes. Not because I devised this to be made in half an hour, but because it is such a simple, hearty, beautiful dish that can be built upon. So have a go.




250 g pork shoulder, diced 1-inch
250 g pork liver
120 g carrots, peeled and diced
120 g potatoes, peeled and diced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
1/2 tbsp sea salt
30 m palm oil
200 ml tomato sauce

  1. In a bowl, rub the pork with sea salt throughly
  2. In a sauce pan, heat the oil over medium high heat
  3. Add the pork by batches and stir to brown all sides evenly. Remove from pan and set aside, about 3-5 minutes
  4. In the same pan, add the liver by batches and stir to brown evenly on all sides, about 3-5 minutes
  5. Add the garlic and onions, Stir and cook until tender, about 2 minutes
  6. Add back the pork and pour in the tomato sauce. Stir to distribute evenly.
  7. Add the potatoes and carrots. Lower heat to a simmer and cover for about 10 minutes until tender. Stir occassionally.
  8. If the sauce gets too thick, just add water. Season to taste

Now I have this recipe with steamed rice. It is equally good with some crusty bread to sop up the sauce. Or maybe this can be made into a pot pie. Hmmm…there’s a thought.


Popeye creamed!

Let’s see…hot charcoal on the grill, check! Marinated big ass pork chops, check! Summer, check!

Now the sides. potatoes of course come to mind. Maybe some caramelized tomato halves. I wanted something that would go well with the tangy taste of grilled pork chops. This recipe is simple, straightforward and just downright yummy. Vegetarians may love this. It is basic, and most home cooks have their own variation or twist just to make it look like it was imprisoned in a cookbook gathering dust in the dark corner of the kitchen.


Creamed Spinach

300 g spinach leaves, washed and drained
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 strips of smoked bacon, roughly chopped
30 ml olive oil

30 g unsalted butter

100 ml heavy cream
Some fresh grated parmesan

Bring a pot of water boil. Add the spinach leaves to blanch and wait for the bubbles to rise up again. Transfer spinach to ice bath to shock and retain the green rich color. Drain in a strainer and squeeze out as much water as possible. Set aside.
In a sauce pan, heat oil and butter over medium high heat.
Add the bacon and render for about 2-3 minutes until tender. Do not burn
Add the garlic and onions and saute for 2 minutes until tender and you can smell the heavenly aroma
Add the spinach and stir to coat all the leaves evenly
Add the cream and stir. Lower heat and let simmer for 3-5 minutes until spinach is tender

Season to taste. Transfer to a hot dish and sprinkle some fresh grated parmesan. (It is important you use fresh parmesan. The sawdust available at supermarkets is just plain wrong)

And guess what. There were leftover pork chops. This dish was cleaned out. Cleaned out.

As a variation, you could use bechamel sauce on this and bake in the oven at 375F for 10 minutes.

Let me know how this works for you. How would you do it differently?


Midnight Snack on a Skillet

Coming home at dawn was a welcoming diversion when I was a lot younger. This morning I suddenly realized that dawn can be quite beautiful during the summer months in a tropical country. What made it even more pleasant was because of two, entirely separate things. One is that during Holy Week a mass exodus to the beaches and resorts outside of Manila leaves the city almost deserted. It is quiet. No traffic. No hurries. And there is a reason to just veg out.

The other, more interesting, reason is the perfect after-midnight snack I had at a friend’s house. It is simple food inspired by Israeli cooks. It serves well for brunch. And the following recipe proves that it can be had any time of day. It is quick, simple and infinitely open to variations. According to Wikipedia:

Shakshouka (Arabic: شكشوكة‎; Hebrew: שקשוקה‎) (also shakshuka) is a dish of eggs poached in a sauce of tomatoes, chili peppers, onions, often spiced with cumin.

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So the following recipe should be good for anyone with a craving after midnight…or brunch. Whatever floats your boat.

400 g canned tomato
1 long green chili, chopped
120 g green bell pepper, deseeded and chopped
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
120 white onion, chopped
100 g tomato paste
75 ml olive oil
2 1/2 tsp paprika
1 tsp ground cumin
30 g fresh coriander, chopped
4 large eggs

  1. In a skillet, heat olive oil over medium high heat. Add the garlic and chili and saute for 3-5 minutes until tender
  2. Lower heat to medium and add the onions and bell pepper. Saute for 3 minutes more
  3. Add the tomatoes and lower heat to a simmer.  Add the rest of the spices and stir occasionally, simmering until the saue has thickened
  4. Add the eggs and let poach for 2-3 minutes. You can cover the pan for a more even cooking. The eggs should be soft and not overcooked
  5. Remove from heat and serve hot with crusty bread or baguette


As a variation, a few grates of fresh Parmesan adds a sharp flavor and adds more character to the dish. I would go even further as to add maybe a few more drops of olive oil and a spritz of fresh lemon juice. How would you change this recipe?


Beauty and the Bisteeya

I went to the extremes recently. Like any other cook, I took a new turn, and took out a recipe that was not in my repertoire. Though Mediterranean recipes often excited me, this made me nervous. The ingredient list was so long, the procedures twice as tedious. Plus, it’s a flavor that I am not familiar with. It is a typical recipe of chicken in filo pastry, but the steps involved prevented me from further experimentation. Why I took on this task you may ask?

I wanted to get some bugs out of my system. For days I have been plagued with anxiety attacks, nervousness, and worries. Though worrying does not solve anything, I needed to get myself out of the rut of inactivity and make my hands do all the talking. I thought of making some baguette, the wrestling of the dough surely to take away the feeling of impending doom. But that was too short of a diversion. Then cinnamon rolls, then brownies, then apple pie. No go. I needed something that would be both entertaining and complicated enough for me to believe that I could still spread my flour and butter stained wings.

So the following is a recipe for a Moroccan chicken and almond in Filo pastry

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15 ml Olive oil
750 gr breast fillet, skinless and coarsley chopped
2 cloves of chopped garlic
20 g freshly grated ginger
1 long chili, deseeded and chopped
10 g cinnamon stick
1/2 tsp saffron
300 ml chicken stock
50 g toasted almonds
20 g confectioners’ sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
50 g clarified butter
6 filo pastry sheets
1 egg
a bunch of fresh coriander, chopped

  1. Heat oil in pan over high heat. In batches, add the chicken and cook until toasted. Transfer to a bowl
  2. Add a bit more oil and saute onions and garlic until tender, not toasted. About 2 minutes. Add the ginger and chili and cook for 3 minutes more to let out the flavor and aroma.
  3. Add the chicken, cinnamon stick, saffron and stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cook uncovered, stirring occasionally for 15-20 minutes or until liquid has evaporated. Take away from the heat and let cool
  4. Preheat oven 180C/375F
  5. Finely chop the toasted almonds and mix in a bowl with cinnamon and sugar.
  6. Grease a 9-inch pie pan with the clarified butter. Lay one sheet of the filo pastry on the pan, letting the edges hang over. Brush lightly with clarified butter, and sprinkle some of the cinnamon almond mixture. At a slight angle, lay another sheet of filo pastry and brush with butter. Sprinkle some more of the cinnamon almond mixture. Continue with the rest of the filo, laying a layer at an angle from the previous sheet
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  7. Add egg and the chopped coriander to the chicken mixture. Season to taste, then spoon the filling into the prepared filo lined pan. Bring the edges over the filling to enclose, then brush with the remaining butter.
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  8. Bake for 10-5 minutes until golden brown
  9. Sprinkle some confectioners’ sugar and cinnamon powder on top, then cut into wedges.
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It’s rich. It’s savory. The flavors are incredible. The kitchen smells incredible. Try this recipe. Let me know if you have any improvements. Please make suggestions by commenting. After all, I don’t do this everyday, and I would like some input on how to make it closer to perfection.