The Virgin Stove

Making everything for the first time

Kalderetang Baka

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Kaldereta-style beef stew. This is a native Filipino dish that is usually served on special occasions. Or on a nice day when Mom is feeling generous enough to cook a dish that takes hours to make.

My husband, C, joined a Filipino Food group on Facebook. He would look at pics and recipes and try to read the names. (He sounds so cute and funny but I love it because he’s determined to learn. Or at least learn the names of foods.) I am not well-versed when it comes to cooking my native country’s dishes. I know, it’s a disgrace and there is  no excuse for it. 😛 It’s just that my Mom, Dad and all my friends cook Filipino food so well. My (now ex) roommate, Jaja, is the world champion on kaldereta. So I decided to concentrate on Italian food. Now I regret not being as keen on learning to cook pagkaing Pinoy (Filipino food).

It took me more than two stressful hours to make it.

Kaldereta should be rich, hearty, and comforting. The sauce should be creamy, the beef must be tender. And, most of all, kaldereta should be flavorful.  Perfect for a cold, January night.

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Lentil and Sausage Soup

More comfort food!

My favorite Italian restaurant is Ciconte’s and they have this heavenly lentil and sausage soup. It isn’t served often and is in their soups-of the day list. I figured I may as well try making a version of this soup so I can have it any time I want. Of course, I don’t expect it to be as wondermous as Ciconte’s so I’m simply aiming for edible for my first attempt.

I used canned lentils in this recipe. I should have bought two cans instead of one since it doesn’t seem to have enough lentils. I also want to try using fresh lentils next time. They were out in Shop Rite and we didn’t feel like going anywhere else today.

I didn’t bother with a play-by-play since I’m sure you don’t need instructional photos for chopping vegetables. Although I do wish I took a snapshot of my husband shaping the sausages into tiny balls. He rarely helps out when I cook yet he had the gall to complain that I gave him the “dirty job.” Grr. Next time, he gets onion duty. Five large ones should be just right for him.

What’s the deal with the stuffed bear? I adopted a polar bear when I donated to WWF last month. I haven’t figured out what to do with it yet. Should I keep it and let it languish in a corner, gathering dust until it disappears into obscurity after a few years? Or should I give it to the pups and let Basti shred it and have the time of his life?

Choices.

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Comfort Food: Baked Eggs with Summer Vegetables

I felt like eating brunch for dinner. Yesterday was a m-f-ing cold fall day and I needed warm comfort food bad, plus I had to use the last of our garden’s produce. The yellow squash is a particular favorite of mine.

C and I don’t really care for capers so I modified the recipe a bit and substituted it with sliced mushrooms. As much as I love vegetables, I thought that adding little bits of turkey bacon would add to the flavor. When I eat eggs, I don’t think of basil so I took that out and used parsley instead. I also don’t have ramekins — I should have bought that set in Ross, grrr — so I used a single medium-sized glass baking dish to bake it in.

I tried as much as I could to have the eggs placed perfectly on each quarter of the dish. So imagine my annoyance when one of the yolks rolled to the side and would not budge no matter how hard I tried to coax it back to the center. Unfortunately, it broke under my less-than-gentle ministrations. 😦

I would say that this serves four if eaten as a snack or breakfast. But this was just enough for C and I. Besides, if there were four of us here at home, I don’t think the fourth person would appreciate having a broken yolk.

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Shrimp Scampi

Because I have to cook before I go to work every morning, I have to make sure that I have all the ingredients laid out early and that the meat has defrosted from the day before. I do give myself at least an hour of cooking time each day. Apart from the fact that C has to eat a real meal, buying lunch every workday isn’t healthy for my pocket. And God only knows what the sodium content of those foods are!

But, I do (accidentally) sleep in every once in a while. For these cases, dishes like shrimp scampi are a lifesaver.

It’s buttery, garlicky, and oh-so-fragrant that I couldn’t wait for my lunch break to come. And the best thing is this deliciously simple dish literally takes 15 minutes to prep and cook. It can be eaten alone or served with angel hair pasta. While cooking the dish, you can boil the pasta to save time.

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Going Simple: Garlic Fried Rice (Sinangag)

Chris insists that I should post this on this blog. I didn’t want to at first because it was so simple! Who would want to read such a simple recipe?

But then Serious Eats has a recipe for boiling water.

One thing is essential: never, EVER use newly cooked rice. It’s always better to use leftover rice that was left in the fridge overnight because it has just the right texture to make good fried rice. This version of fried rice is not meant to be eaten alone; Filipinos mostly eat sinangag for breakfast along with their meat of choice. Most common accompaniments are salted fish (tuyo), smoked fish (tinapa), tapa (dried/cured beef), longganiza (pork sausage), and even regular fried hotdogs. Some serve egg with the meal, usually cooked sunny side up or over easy.

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Eggplant Rollatini

Decisions.

Should I make eggplant rollatini without bacon? I don’t have ham. And I don’t have prosciutto because I forgot to pick some up from Botto’s the last time I was there. It can be served without any meat, right? But what is life without bacon? Well, bacon it is.

Most cook eggplant rollatini with the bacon/ham/prosciutto rolled inside the eggplant along with ricotta cheese. I did the opposite and wrapped it over the rolled eggplant to keep it secure. By the time I was done, it looked like a swankier version of pigs-in-a-blanket.

This can be served alone or with a side of pasta. If you’re doing the latter, don’t skimp on the tomato sauce. Pile it on, baby! Trust me, you’ll need it.

Recipe after the jump.

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Stuffed Pepper Three Ways

Basti, our white long-haired chi, has a very bad habit. Whenever we cook, he always thinks that he’s getting fed. So he whimpers and begs… loudly. You’ll be surprised how loud a three-pound chihuahua can sound when he’s upset. We’re still in the process of correcting him and teaching him that dog food is for dogs and human food is for humans only. It’s not as if they have bad food — I buy big bags of organic Grade A dog food for them. Our older dogs still get excited when I cook but at least they don’t beg.

One of the dishes that can drive Basti nuts is stuffed pepper. We have a couple of big bell plants in our little garden and I had to think of creative ways to use them. I started with the most basic one: a soft bell stuffed with a blend of meat, rice and herbs.

I made three versions: the Classic American, the Asian, and the Asian-American.

The Classic American is mainly beef and rice enhanced with sage and parsley and is baked on a bed of Italian tomato sauce.

The Asian-American is similar to the above but with slight differences. Like adding cayenne, substituting Worcestershire with oyster sauce, and using plain crushed tomatoes instead of sauce.

The Asian is quite different. Pork is used instead of beef and rice is served on the side. Among other things.

See the recipes after the jump.

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Eggplant Parmigiana Stacks

I have never made eggplant parmigiana before. But I suppose you already know that because *points up* of the name of this blog. My husband grew up with a grumpy Nonna that cooked consistently perfect Italian food.

So I am more than a little anxious.

Thank God there’s Mario Batali, Food Network, and a surplus of cherry tomatoes from the garden. And, last but not the least, Francesco Rinaldi Three Cheese pasta sauce because it is okay to take shortcuts if you’re dying of hunger and have less than an hour to cook. (*&^%#! I sound like a f*&%#@g ad.) For pre-made pasta sauce, FR is quite good but it will need some jazzing up. My recipe for red pasta sauce from scratch takes forever to simmer just to get the flavor right.

This is not exactly a super-traditional eggplant parmigiana. I may have based it on a famous chef’s recipe but I can’t resist butchering things up and adding stuff according to what I like. For instance, I used wheat flour instead of breadcrumbs. And then I baked the eggplants instead of frying them. (Batali recommended baking as well but the more common method is frying.) Plus I added a touch of ground beef. The latter is not required but I needed a little protein to put some meat in my husband’s bones and it did enhance the flavor of the sauce.  If you want a vegetarian dish, just skip the meat entirely.

Here are my stacks before baking.

… and after.

I have a bad habit of forgetting to taste my cooking before serving so I handed Chris his plate before I filled mine. The first thing I heard was “Yum!”  I suppose it is safe to say that I passed.

Personally, I do not think the photos of my stacks look as appetizing as they do in real life. But with regards to taste… it was ever so slightly crispy on the outside, very soft inside, and heartwarmingly savory as a whole. This is definitely comfort food and is best served with a side of spaghetti or linguine.

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The Perfect Garlic Bread

This is the second time I made this recipe. But I don’t really count the first because it was Chris who was really making it according to my suggestions and instructions while I was cooking pasta with meatballs.

Our trainer, Christine, was going back to Batavia after our training period so our batch thought that it would be a great idea to surprise her with a potluck lunch and a small gift. Someone else was bringing the pasta so I volunteered to bring the garlic bread.

Just to warn health nuts who might be reading this: this is NOT a healthy recipe. I like using butter and cheese only in moderation but, in this case, moderation isn’t the way to go about making garlic bread. The bread is coated with butter and topped with copious amount of mozzarella and parmesan cheese. All in all, it’s very simple, straightforward and won’t require a long prep and cooking time.

A lot of people like to use French bread for this. I recommend using a Long Italian instead. (Don’t you just love the name?) French bread is too hard and stiff and should only be used if there is no other alternative. A Long Italian has a crisp crust but is soft in the center.

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Linguine with Summer Squash and Ricotta

Chris gets annoyed when I don’t update my blogs for weeks at a time. He checks them regularly and I suppose it cheers him up to see my thoughts on virtual paper and that I’m writing instead of harassing him. 🙂 Or perhaps he just appreciates reading my posts.

A few weeks ago, I cooked yellow long-neck squash and asparagus stewed in Thai shrimp paste (that recipe will follow). I remember that Chris was pretty bummed because he picked the squash too late and the other half of it ballooned and turned into a deep yellow. We didn’t know then that we were supposed to pick it before it ripens — when the fruit is long and slim — so one can eat the whole creamy vegetable without having to take out the seeds. Of course, he cheered up when I put the stew in front of him.

This time around, the squash was picked at the perfect time.

My only complaint about this dish is that I could not replicate that perfectly smooth, whipped cream consistency for the ricotta blend as shown in the ABC site even when I whisked the cheese to an inch of its life. Maybe they used KitchenAid? Also remember not to overload on the sausage. I only added them to provide more taste and a little protein for my skinny husband.

We had to replace the car’s bumper this week because, er, let’s just say that I murdered a concrete trash can in a convenience store’s parking lot. So this month will be quite lean for us. But cheap does NOT mean bad food. It means enjoying healthy meals at home for less than 10 dollars instead of spending 20-40 outside. The only exceptions are Date Night Fridays and Chris’ Wing-and-Beer Wednesdays. Here is a breakdown of what this meal cost us:

1 lb dried pasta linguine – $1
2 Italian sausage patties from Botto’s – $1.5
1 cup fresh ricotta – $2
1/2 cup grated parmesan – $1
1 yellow long-neck  squash – free from the garden
sprigs of fresh mint – free from the garden

That’s five dollars and fifty cents for four servings, a dollar and a half per person for a meal that could cost $10-12 in a restaurant! This is why Steffi McScrooge made the effort of learning how to cook, ladies and gentlemen.

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