Monday, December 12, 2011

Farewell, my friend.

Our dear friend, T, lost his battle with cancer 10 days ago, 1 month shy of his 51st birthday. We couldn't believe it even though we knew that death was inevitable towards the end. He was a fighter till the very end, slipping away peacefully to be with God. He never gave up throughout his 26 rounds of chemo even at the last one. He always said if he didn't go thru with each round of chemo, no matter how debilitating the side effects were, he won't have a chance to fight his cancer. But, in the end, the chemo may have prolonged his life by a few months, it certainly destroyed the normal functions of his organs as well. When his kidneys went out and sepsis kicked in, his condition deteriorated very rapidly.
T was a very loving and caring person, loved his wife and kids, loved life, loved to travel, easy going, and generous with a huge dose of humor for life. He taught us the meaning of life. In the 15 years that we've known him, we definitely shared a lot of good times together. We watched his two daughters grew from babies to adolescents and vice versa. We were reluctant to see him go and saddened by his passing but we know that he's in a better place. Suffer no more, my friend. May you rest in peace.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Mammoth and Mono Lakes

We had a chance to visit Mammoth and Mono Lakes over the thanksgiving weekend with my brother and my cousin's family. Of course, the ski area was crowded. Being beginner skiers, we decided to rent some ski equipments and went skiing on the snow slopes by the roadside. It was fun plus we had the whole area to ourselves. Mono lake is a salt water lake. Crystal clear and calm water provided excellent reflections for picture taking.

 A beautiful and very friendly horse by the roadside on our
 way to Mammoth/Mono Lakes area.
                                         Crowded and busy Mammoth Ski Area

                                                   Frozen Mammoth Lake
                                     Beautiful salt rock formation at Mono Lake

                                          Let the reflection speak for itself. Such tranquility.

                                                       Love the colors


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Thanksgiving's braised turkey

For the longest time, I've roasted a whole turkey almost every thanksgiving holiday. This time around, I decided to do something different as there were only four of us and we'll be out of town for the rest of the thanksgiving weekend. I bought a whole turkey from the local market and quartered them. Decided to cook half of the turkey (half a breast and a thigh) to feed us plus a neighbor's kid. The other half is still sitting in the freezer as I'm typing this post. It was the best turkey ever, proclaimed my husband. Such moist, tender and flavorful meat. It made my kitchen smelled so good that my family members keep popping their heads into the kitchen inquiring, "Is the turkey done yet?" Best thing about this turkey was that the braising was done the night before and all I had to do was heat it up the next day. This recipe was adapted from the New York Times.

Ingredients (serves 6):-
1/2 a turkey breast plus a thigh (about 5 lbs)
1 tbsp of sea salt
2 tbsps of chicken seasoning
6 ounces of italian sausage, cut into 1 inch bite size
3 ounces of pancetta, cut into 1/2 inch bite size 
1 cup of carrots, cut into 1 inch bite size
1 cup of celery, cut into 1 inch bite size
1 cup of shitake mushrooms, quartered
1/2 red onions, cut into 1 inch bite size
2 cloves of garlic
3 sprigs of rosemary
5 cups of chicken stock
1 cup of water
4 tbsps of olive oil

1. The night before the turkey is to be cooked, rub salt and chicken seasoning on the turkey. Cover with plastic wrap and leave in the fridge overnight. The next day, remove turkey from the fridge and let it sit at room temperature for 1 hour.

2. In a large 9 quart dutch oven or heavy skillet, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the turkey breast and thigh skin side down. Let brown undisturbed for 4 minutes. Turn the turkey onto its other side and let brown for another 2 minutes. Remove turkey from the dutch oven or skillet and place on a platter.

3. In the same dutch oven or skillet, saute garlic and onions for about 2 minutes in the remaining olive oil before adding the sausage and pancetta. Let cook for 2 more minutes. Add the celery, carrots, and mushroom and cook for another minute before adding the rosemary, chicken stock and water. 

4. Bring the mixture to a boil before adding the turkey thigh skin side up. Cover the dutch oven or skillet and let it simmer for 45 minutes. Add turkey breast skin side up and simmer for another 30 minutes. Turn off the heat and turn the turkey pieces meat side up. Let them sit in the braising liquid overnight to soak up more flavor. The next morning, turn the turkey pieces skin side up and let them sit in the liquid a little longer.

5. To heat up the turkey, place the dutch oven over medium low heat and simmer for another hour. Take out the turkey pieces and place on a broiler pan. Heat your broiler to 525 degrees Fahrenheit and broil the turkey pieces six inches away from the heat source for 2 to 3 minutes to crisp up the skin. Do watch the broiler as it'll burn the turkey if left uattended. Remove pan from the broiler and cut or slice up the turkey meat as you please. 

6. To serve, put sausage, pancetta and vegetables on a serving platter. Place the turkey slices over the mixture then drizzle the braising liquid over it. Use the leftover braising liquid to make delicious pasta dishes. 

Friday, November 18, 2011

Life is short

Just visited a very close family friend who's in the hospital battling with late stage cancer. It breaks my heart to see him lose his speech and unable to communicate verbally. It's even more heart wrenching to hear him groaning in pain and constantly moving his arms and head back and forth due to the pain from cancer. It's inhumane to be suffering from such pain. He doesn't recognize his wife, family or friends. His medical team is saying they are doing the best they can to make him comfortable but it's very obvious their strategies are not working. His attending physician has not visited him once since he was admitted into the hospital 4 days ago.  He hasn't slept a wink for 3 days since he's been so restless. He would close his eyes and open them right up as if he's afraid to fall asleep.
 I wish doctors were more compassionate towards those patients who are on the last journey of their lives. An attending physician giving out orders to be carried out by the various resident doctors without examining the patient physically him/herself does not equal good patient care. The human side of medical care is non-existent in this case. What a shame.
It's been 14 months since my friend was first diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. Since then, he's been undergoing very aggressive chemotherapy. Surgery was not an option because of the location of the tumor mass. In spite of terrible side effects (severe diarrhea, unable to keep food down, weight loss, hair loss, loss of appetite, fatigue, etc) from chemo, he's been keeping his spirit up until now. Before the cancer diagnosis, he was a fit and lean person, full of energy and always on the go. Now, seeing him laying in the hospital, I just can't believe this is the same person. He has lost almost 80 pounds thru this ordeal. He's been reduced to a skeleton with a swollen abdomen and legs. My friend will be 51 in a couple of months. It's sad to know he'll probably not make it.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Spinach Linguine With Roasted Sweet Pepper Sauce

School's in. So, I've been making school lunches for the kids almost daily. Somedays they have fried rice, sushi rolls, gorditas, ham and cheese, mac and cheese, peanut butter or nutella sandwiches, and other days they have pasta. This is the only other way to get them to eat sweet peppers and asparagus as they dislike both vegetables besides sprinkling them on a pizza. I, on the other hand, like to use roasted sweet peppers in salad dressings, sandwich spread, and of course, pasta sauce.

Ingredients for 3-4 servings
8 small sweet peppers ( red, orange or yellow will do)
1 clove of garlic, chopped coarsely
1 lb of dry spinach linguine
1 shallot, chopped
1/2 cup of chopped asparagus
1/2 lb of sausage
1/2 cup of sour cream
1 cup of marinara sauce
2 cups of pasta water
1 egg, beaten (optional)
3 tbsps + 2 tbsps of olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

1. Cook the linguine according to its package's instructions until al dente (about 6- 8 minutes). Drain the pasta and set aside. Keep 2 cups of the pasta water as well.

2. Turn on the oven and set to broil at 500 degrees fahrenheit. Wash and dab dry the sweet peppers with paper towels. Rub 2 tbsps of olive oil all over the peppers. Place the peppers on a broiler pan. Broil one side for 8 minutes then turn the peppers to its other side and broil for another 8 minutes until charred. Remove pan and peppers from the oven. Let the peppers sit at room temperature for 10 minutes. 

3.Place the peppers in a gallon sized plastic bag and and seal the bag. Let them steam for 20 minutes in the bag before peeling the skin off. It should come off easily. Remove stems and seeds from the peppers as well. Avoid rinsing the peppers under running water as to preserve its flavors. Wet your hands with water and use your wet hand to clean off any impurities left on the peppers. Chop the peppers coarsely and pulse in a food processor with the garlic for 2 to 3 minutes. Set the pureed peppers aside.

4. Heat 3 tbsps of olive oil in a large saute pan over medium high heat. Add the shallots and saute for 2 minutes. Then, add the sausage and stir until cooked. Next, throw in the asparagus, the pureed peppers, the marinara sauce and 1 cup of the pasta water. Bring the sauce to a boil then turn down the heat to a simmer. Let the sauce simmer for 10 minutes before stirring in the egg. If the sauce is too thick at this point, add in the remaining pasta water 1/4 cup at a time until the desired consistency is obtained. Add the sour cream and the linguine. Stir the pasta mixture until all the pasta are coated with the delicious sauce. Season with salt and pepper before serving with a side salad or just by itself.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Tea Smoked Duck (Zhang Cha Ya)

Tea Smoked Duck is a must have anytime we eat out at a Szechuan restaurant. Unfortunately, since our favorite Szechuan restaurant closed down a year ago, we have to make our own. Having tried a few recipes from the internet with unsatisfactory results, I decided to turn to an old chinese cookbook that my husband brought from China many years ago.
The recipe in the book only lists the ingredients needed to make the duck without any quantity whatsoever. So, I get to play guessing game with the quantities involved and, of course, deleting some ingredients along the way as I don't have them in my pantry. The duck turned out pretty good. Crispy skin and tender, juicy meat with a hint of smokiness. Comparable to the ones that we had at the restaurant.

3 lbs whole duck (head and innards removed)
2 tbsps of whole szechuan peppercorn, toasted lightly and crushed
1 tbsp of coarse salt
1 tsp of five spice powder
2 tbsps of hoisin sauce for dipping (diluted with 1 tsp of water and 1/2 tsp of sesame oil)
Aluminium foil, roasting rack, large wok for smoking.

Marinade ingredients:-
8 pieces of cloves
8 pieces of star anise
8 pieces of dried longans
1 stalk of green onion
1 thumb sized ginger
6 tbsps of light soy sauce
1 tbsp of dark soy sauce
1/4 cup of rock sugar
4 cups of water

Smoking ingredients:-
1 cup of uncooked rice
1/2 cup of granulated sugar
1 cup of black tea leaves

1. Clean and remove excess fat from the duck. Wash and pat dry with paper towels. Rub salt, peppercorn and five spice powder all over the duck. Place the duck in a deep dish (to catch the drippings from the duck as it steams) and steam at medium heat for 45 minutes in a steamer. Remove the duck from its drippings and let cool. If you like, you may separate and refrigerate duck drippings with its oil in a airtight container for later use, otherwise just discard.

2. In a medium saucepan, add all the marinade ingredients. Bring to a boil over medium heat and let cool. Place duck in a gallon sized zip-loc bag. Pour the cooled marinade into the bag and make sure the bag is securely fastened to prevent leakage. Let duck sit in the marinade for at least 4 hours at room temperature or up to 24 hours in the fridge. Turn the bag once in a while as to get an even marinade on both sides of the duck.

3. To smoke the duck, line the bottom of a large wok with aluminium foil. Mix the smoking ingredients and pour into the wok. Next, place a roasting rack in the wok. Put the wok on top of the stove and turn up the heat to high. Open all windows and turn up your ventilation fan as the kitchen could get smoky. As soon as smoke is released, place the duck on the roasting rack and cover the wok tightly with a lid. Wrap a layer of aluminium foil around the lid as well to trap in the smoke. Let the duck smoke for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat but, do not remove the lid, yet. Let the duck sit in the smoker for another 30 minutes with the lid on.

4. After the smoking process is done, remove the duck and chop it into bite size pieces before serving. Serve with hoisin sauce on the side for dipping. The original recipe calls for deep frying the duck after smoking. I skipped the frying part since I want to retain the juiciness of the meat, plus the skin turned out to be crispy enough for me.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Devil's food cupcakes with cheesecake filling

Ingredients for 12 cupcakes
1/2 package of devil's food cake mix
12 cupcake liners
2 cups of hot water for a water bath

Cheesecake filling:
8 ounces of cream cheese at room temperature
2 tbsps of sour cream
1/2 cup of powdered sugar
1 tbsp of all purpose flour
1 egg

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees fahrenheit. Line a 12 cup muffin pan with cupcake liners. Bake the devil's food cake mix according to its package instructions for 12 minutes. The center of the cupcakes will be runny at this point but not to worry since they'll be hollowed out to be filled with the cheesecake filling. Remove pan from the oven and let cupcakes cool slightly in the pan.

2. Reduce oven heat to 325 degrees fahrenheit. With a hand or stand mixer, mix all the ingredients for the cheesecake filling at medium speed for 2 minutes.

3. Using a small teaspoon, scoop out the center of the cupcakes, about 1 inch in diameter. Fill the hole with cheesecake filling until it overflows almost to the edge of the cupcake. Place a broiler pan on the medium rack of the oven. Place the muffin pan with the cupcakes onto the broiler pan. Pour the hot water into the broiler pan, about 1 inch up the side of the muffin pan.

4. Let the cupcakes bake undisturbed for 30 minutes. When the cupcakes are done, do not open the oven door. Turn off the oven and leave the cupcakes in the oven undisturbed for 1 hour.  After that, remove them from the muffin pan and refrigerate for at least 4 hours before serving. Light and not too sweet. Enough to satisfy that carbo craving!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Wings over Camarillo

Went to a local airshow over the weekend at Camarillo Airport, about an hour north of Los Angeles. Great chance to see and touch many beautiful aircrafts on display including current military, WWII, antique, restored, private and wacky airplanes. Many veterans and military personnel were on hand to share information about the planes, military vehicles and equipments. One can feel the sense of pride shared by these pilots talking about their planes to visitors and doing various maneuvers with their planes in the air. First time for me to see an upside down helicopter flying in the air. What a treat! I wish I could remember the names of the planes and vehicles that I saw at the show but unfortunately, progressing age has blocked out most of the information. Nonetheless, it was a fun day!

                                                           WWII's China Doll
                                                           China Doll's cockpit
                                                        Something for the road
                                                            F 18 fighter jet

Fully loaded

WWII Japanese aircraft
See the sign
                                                       WWII Russian aircraft
                                                           Something fun
                                                          Something cute

Machine gun
                                                          Future ground traffic controller
Shark warbird

                                             Fast and furious F 18. Gone in a whiff!
Beautiful maneuver, paying tribute to all the veterans in attendance.
Upside down helicopter
Nice, too!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Hot! Hot! Hot!

Located at the southernmost tip of Baja California, Cabo San Lucas and San Jose Del Cabo were definitely one of the hottest places we've ever been. 120 degrees fahrenheit daily on those days that we were there, but that didn't prevent us from going fishing and doing the cooking tour. There were no traditional market in Cabo, so a trip to their local supermarket it is. Loved the bakery department, so many breads and pastries to choose from. Couldn't help grabbing a few yummy goodies. These are desert towns sitting next to the Pacific Ocean and Sea of Cortez. Loved the more quaint and cleaner San Jose Del Cabo vs Cabo San Lucas which is way too commercialized for me.
Lonesome cactus
The famous El Arco- lots of fishing and strong waves 
Very tender octopus ceviche and addictive pickled until red sweet onions
Flavorful carnitas cooked in a paper bag
                                             Tasty seafood ceviche with just the right amt of lime
Grilled sea bass
Yummy mahi-mahi (freshly caught by hubby)
Wanted to try them all!

                                                           Wonderful bread w/custard
                                           Too bad tummy couldn't pack all of these goodies
                                                                Yeah, chiles!!!
                                                               More chiles
                                                                Local sugar
Gotta make the tamarindo juice and jamaica flowers water

The best freshly made corn tortillas

Care for glass bottom boats tour at the marina?
                                                        Medano Beach at Cabo San Lucas               

                                                        Beautiful Sea Of Cortez

Another lovely view of the Sea Of Cortez from resort