21 October 2009

On Love and Katsudon

(Cross-posted on my food blog! ;D)

, that surprisingly simple donburi where a breaded pork cutlet sits atop a bowl of rice, was made romantic when Japanese author Banana Yoshimoto used it as a focal element in her award-winning novella Kitchen.

In the story, the heroine - Mikage Sakurai - chances upon a beautifully-done katsudon at a small restaurant. The dish is so good that she impulsively decides to share it with her friend - possibly her lover - Yuichi Tanabe who has fled to Izu in deepest mourning. As she hands the katsudon to Yuichi and watches him eat, Mikage realizes that their relationship has reached the point where it permanently changes from mere friendship to a full-blown romance.

In my personal opinion, I can't think of any literary moment that is as sweet. Then again, I'm a foodie and I believe romance should be accompanied by a good square meal!

I was re-reading Kitchen for the nth time recently and was toying with the idea of actually preparing a katsudon for the wonderful Mr. W. Of course, as usual, we all know what a major coward I am in the love department, but I still think it's worth a shot at doing.

The following recipe is adapted from the one posted by About.com's Japanese food expert Setsuko Yoshizuka. It has, of course, been tweaked based on what I had available in my kitchen the first time I attempted this recipe.

For the tonkatsu:
  • 4 pork cutlets, each pounded to about 1/2 an inch thick
  • flour
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • panko [Japanese breadcrumbs]
  • oil for deep frying
  • salt and pepper
For the sauce:
  • 1 white onion, peeled and sliced
  • 1 sachet dashi-no-moto [instant dashi stock], dissolved in 1-1/4 cups hot water
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons mirin or sweet Chinese cooking wine
  • 1 tablespoon granulated white sugar
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 4 cups cooked rice
Season cutlets with salt and pepper; allow to marinate for about 10 - 20 minutes. Dredge each cutlet in flour, dip in the beaten egg, and roll in the panko till well covered. Deep-fry till golden brown. Set aside.

Over medium heat, combine the dissolved dashi-no-moto with the soy sauce, cooking wine, and sugar in a saucepan. Allow to simmer for a couple of minutes. Slice the fried cutlets and add to the sauce; bring to a boil. Add the four beaten eggs, spreading them evenly over the cutlets. Lower the heat and cover for a minute or so. Turn off the heat.

Place the rice in four deep bowls. Divide the tonkatsu mixture evenly over the rice.

Serves 4.

Now, if you're not exactly confident about your skills in the kitchen, you could always do what Mikage did in the story and just buy a katsudon from a reputable Japanese restaurant. (The one pictured here is from Teriyaki Boy; always a nice choice! :D) After all, it's the thought that counts.

However, I am of the opinion that nothing says "I love you" more passionately than fixing your beloved a good meal. Then again, that's just me. ;)

15 October 2009

Unrequited: A Dirge

Artwork: Dopo la Fine - Margherita Manzelli, 2008

my love:

forgive me
for loving

i dread
your hate,
your rage
at finding

i have
no beauty
you could
take pride

i have
no wit,
no glitter,
no glamour
to mask
my flaws.

i have
but the
the contempt
of my
foes -
and there
are many
of them -

who would
want me

i tire
of weeping
but what
can i

i am

i do

least of

and yet,
mean more
to me
in this

if i


it would

13 October 2009

Saturday Night Supper: Pasta Tossed with Red Wine and Mushrooms

I apologize for not having posted anything for the past several days. When real life gets in the way of one's real life, things can get seriously awry. And, as if that weren't bad enough, several events occurred that have left a really bad taste in my mouth. But enough with the grumping about; let's have some real food, shall we?

I recently bought Sharon Boorstin's culinary memoir Let Us Eat Cake, a lively autobiography that shows the role played by food in building friendships among women over the years. It's quite interesting, really amusing with some laugh-out-loud moments, and the recipes are so appealing, even the most reluctant will be bounding off to the kitchen to do some cooking.

One particular recipe was for pappardelle pasta in a porcini mushroom sauce. This savory dish consisted of freshly-made pappardelle tossed in a hearty sauce made with a fresh, large porcini found in the Italian woods. Sharon Boorstin and a friend started debating on how best to cook the gigantic mushroom: to cook it in butter or olive oil? Bacon or no bacon? Red wine or white? In the end, the finished dish surpassed all the rest of the things they offered at their Italian feast.

When I decided to cook this last Saturday, I planned to make it with farfalle (bow-tie / butterfly) pasta and bacon. Alas, it turned out that the farfalle at home had been used for a pasta soup for a church luncheon and my mother turned the last of Saturday breakfast's bacon into a Saturday afternoon sandwich. Plus, when I went to one of the local delis, the price of a single porcini mushroom was enough to make my hair white. Well, in a pinch (like this one), there's always spaghetti and shiitake mushies to use; oh, well...

This is one of those recipes that is so darned easy that it's almost ridiculous. In the event that you find yourself with some serious hunger pangs, you can whip this dish up in less than half an hour - and it takes even less time if you already have cooked pasta stored in your fridge.

This recipe for buttered pasta with mushrooms differs from most as it is made without cream or bacon. Indeed, the sauteed mushrooms get an additional savory fillip from a splash of red wine and a good dash of mixed herbs. A generous sprinkle of Parmesan cheese finishes it just fine.

Pasta con Funghi
  • 1 medium pack spaghetti, prepared according to package instructions
  • 500 grams fresh shiitake mushrooms, sliced (use both caps and stems)
  • 1 medium can button mushrooms; drained and liquid reserved for another recipe
  • 1 medium red onion, chopped finely
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1/3 cup salted butter
  • 2 tablespoons minced parsley and basil or 1 tablespoon commercial Italian seasoning
  • 1/4 cup red wine
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • fresh ground black pepper to taste
Prepare the pasta according to the instructions on the pack. Once cooked, save two tablespoons of the pasta cooking water. Drain the pasta and set aside.

In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the chopped onion and cook till soft. Add the garlic and cook till the garlic has browned slightly. Add the shiitake slices; don't panic if the mushrooms absorb the butter. When the shiitake slices are soft, add the button mushrooms, the wine, and the reserved pasta cooking liquid. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Cook until the liquid has reduced by about half, then add the herbs. Stir for about five seconds, then turn off the heat. Toss in the cooked pasta at once along with the grated Parmesan. Sprinkle on some ground black pepper. Serve immediately.

Serves 6.

06 October 2009

Storm Food

It's been nearly a couple of weeks since Typhoon Ondoy laid waste to a significant part of the city and several provinces. Donations in various forms are still arriving non-stop. Organizations like the and Philippine National Red Cross and Habitat for Humanity are working tirelessly to bring relief to those who need it the most. And it is heartening to note that common citizens who usually don't take the time to hand even a small coin to a beggar-child have gone the extra mile by organizing prayer brigades and localized relief operations. It's really nice to know that people still care.

Despite the tempest, it should also be noted that Filipinos never seem to lose their sense of community or their sense of humor. This resilience is also evident in the fact that there are actually dishes specifically served whenever major-league storms crash into the islands.

Both savory and sweet rice porridge make an appearance on local dinner tables when the winds begin to howl. Topping the list is the quintessential arroz caldo which involves cooking malagkit [glutinous rice] in chicken broth with onions, garlic, ginger, a whole jointed chicken, and kasubha [native saffron] to give it a bit of color. In other parts of the country, goto (malagkit cooked in pork broth with slivers of beef tripe and chives) is the porridge of choice, made even more savory by additions of patis, kalamansi juice, and toasted garlic. Those fond of sweets usually enjoy champorrado, the local take on the Mexican bebida caliente - only this time it's made with rice, not corn, and there are no spices involved. Guinataang mais, a gloriously sticky porridge made with malagkit, white corn, and coconut milk is also a favorite.

For Filipinos in urban areas, however, opening cans of either meat or fish are the sure-fire way to keep bellies filled when the temperature drops along with torrential rain. Canned sardines in tomato sauce are sauteed with onions and garlic to make sardinas guisado which goes down a treat with cold rice. Corned beef is sauteed with onions, garlic, and potatoes till soupy; Vienna sausages are popped into the frying pan till the thin skins burst and become crunchy.

Then, thanks to care packages from relatives in the United States, there's Spam cooked in a variety of ways. Spam sliced thin and fried to a crisp is a treat in my family and it usually gets tucked into sandwiches with plain omelets and cucumber mayonnaise. That is, of course, unless my mother beats us to the table and has the lot with rice.

In the Meantime... If you want to help out those ravaged by the onslaught of both Ondoy and Pepeng, coordinate with your local government units, print out and post these Flex Sheets for those evacuees who are seeking employment. Remember: a little help goes a long way.