Pasta Salad ala Jerms

Its the holiday season, one is expected to prepare the traditional dishes which have been passed down from generations. Stuff like baked pies,Turkey, lechon – the succulent roast port dish Asians prefer to serve and to suffer through long lines to get your honey baked ham. Growing up in the Philippines – the Christmas season is steeped in tradition. Families members were expected or worse required to be present for Noche Buena, gather around the dinner table to partake of the feast lovingly prepared usually by Mom following recipes handed down to her. My family served arroz valencia, majestic ham and fruit salad on Christmas Eve. Of course we had castanas – chestnuts, grapes, apples or oranges. These could be had with what was then a short drive to San Andres Fruit Market or maybe from Quiapo Market.
In the United States, Filipino families still try to serve dishes as they did at home. The most prominent is Honey Baked Ham – similar in preparation to baked hams from the Philippines. One has observed long lines in the Honey Baked Ham stores most of whom are Filipinos.

To serve a new dish is the challenge each season for me. One Christmas in trying to keep some ingredients in tune with the holiday season but with a twist, I put together a pasta salad dish that now gets requested any time of the year. Its served cold after spending time in the fridge to marry all the ingredients. Forego the “blending” period, the dish will taste different. You have to give it a few hours to allow the spices and herbs to blend together. I use slices of honey baked ham but if you wish you can replace it with turkey ham which will also impart that smokey flavor to the pasta. A friend preferred turkey to pork so one time I used turkey and no one noticed the difference. I use fusilli pasta – that small, thick corkscrew shaped type. Fusilli means little spindles in Italian. Why this pasta you ask? Those spiral shaped pasta holds the sauce better than the smoother surfaced one like macaroni or shell pasta. Hey this is cooking, its not rigid, you do it as you like it. My preference is this pasta. Before I forget, when cooking the pasta add a chicken boullion cube in the boiling water to give it a flavor boost. In the final preparation before serving I have added salad shrimp to give it another twist. (small sized cooked shrimp)

1 package fusilli pasta
1 cup cubed ham
1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup green peas
onion powder
garlic powder
Parmesan cheese
sea salt (again stay away from the iodized type)
fresh thyme leaves – about two to three sprigs – leaves only – approximately 1 tablespoon
if using dried thyme use only 1 tsp
1-2 tbsp sour cream – depending to taste

Boil pasta until al dente. Immediately wash with cold water to stop it from cooking. Allow to cool in refrigerator and fully drained of water. Add the ham, peas to the pasta. Slowly incorporate the mayonnaise into the pasta, add more so each pasta is coated with dressing. Then add about 1 tsp of onion powder and a dash of garlic powder and about a handful of parmesan cheese. Taste the combination to your liking. Add more onion powder to the pasta and mayonnaise as needed, ensuring that the pasta doesn’t get overwhelmed with it. Add salt as needed, then add the thyme leaves. Leave in the fridge for at least an hour to allow all the ingredients to marry. Add the salad shrimp if using. I add the sour cream right before serving. To add zing to the pasta salad, I get a packet of dry ranch dressing and add about a tsp to the salad.

I think this dish will be served in a friend’s house on the 28th of December.


Crepes with Chestnut Cream

It has been quite hectic for me the past several weeks, had to cover some events, then I also decided to renew my real estate license. So I hit the books daily at the same time tending to the kitchen for the family for the evening meal. Oh, such is life in a busy metropolis like San Francisco. But keeps me occupied, more like distracted from the daily stresses of life.

One day a friend updated her Facebook status – that she was having crepes.
That reminded me of the wonderful crepes I would have at Ti Couz in the Valencia/Mission corridor of San Francisco. Authentic French crepes in a French resto – including the rudeness of the wait staff. The alternate place was Crepes A Go Go in the trendy area of Cow Hollow – along Union Street in San Francisco. One would have to decide from its extensive list of crepes which runs from tropical – coconut, banana and jam to the more common ones like sugar and butter (simple but excellent tasting) to chestnut spread and strawberries.
Then I had one of those AHA moments – while shopping in Asian stores (no longer called Oriental stores because its not politically correct) one will notice an abundance of cooked, peel chestnuts that come in tetra packs. All you have to do is to tear open the pack and devour those nice whole nuts. Plus, these are inexpensive – $0.99 cents for a 5 oz serving – some stores like Oceanview Asian store next to the DALY City BART station sell them for $1.50 for two. The catch is you have to get two, if you get one the price is still $0.99 cents.
So one night I tried making the crepes with the chestnut spread and it turned out great. I didn’t have my camera handy that time so no photos will be included in the recipe. Another friend advised me that next time I post a recipe I should include pictures, so I will do it next time I have a culinary inspiration.

Crepes with Chestnut cream:

Ingrédients (for 15 crepes):
– 2 cups of flour
– 2 eggs
– 1 oz of vanilla sugar (or 1 oz of granulated sugar + seeds scraped from a vanilla bean)
– 1 tsp of vanilla extract if vanilla bean is not available
– 1 small pinch of salt
– 3 cups of milk
– butter (for cooking)

Put the flour, both eggs, salt, sugar and vanilla extract in a bowl.
using a wire whisk mix while pouring in the milk slowly.
The mixture has to be very smooth.
Leave the mixture to settle and rest for 45 minutes to an hour. After which heat some butter in a non stick pan and some vegetable oil – adding oil will prevent the butter from burning

Proceed to put 1/4 cup of the mix in the pan and tilt the pan to spread the mix until all the pan is cover to make a thin disc. This is not pancake, so try to make it as thin as you can without breaking the crepe

Wait about 1 min, then turn it over and wait another min for the other side to cook
Serve with chestnut cream – recipe follows

Chestnut cream
400 grams of boiled chestnuts
1 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 can sweetened condensed milk (please use the whole milk variety and not the filled milk)
1 cup water – not all will be used.

In a double boiler put the already boiled chestnuts with the milk until it turns mushy. The milk will not be absorbed so discard any liquids when the chestnuts have softened. Drain then run the chestnuts through a fine mesh strainer or use a potato masher. It might take two turns to get the smooth consistency. Combine the mashed chestnuts gradually with the can of condensed milk and vanilla extract. Use a blender if you need to – it has to have a slightly thicker consistency than condensed milk. Should you need to thin it, add some of the water.

NOTE: An excellent alternative is Nutella – which my friend Trish favors


Marinated Shrimp Barbecue/Asian Style Barbecued Shrimp

Here is one great grilling marinate for shrimp on the shell. By cooking it this way, it ensures an even cooking while keeping the flesh moist. I love to combine all the fragrant herbs found in Asian groceries balancing it with other condiments to come up with that final product. The individual ingredients by themselves don’t create that zing but if you combine them it magically creates that layer of flavor but not overpowering the taste of the shrimp or prawns.

Coconut milk/cream
cilantro – leaves and stalk – chopped
Green onions – white and green parts chopped
Lemongrass – white part only – chopped
Paprika –
juice of 1 lime, then add the fruit into the marinade
Garlic – minced
Fish Sauce – the one I use is Thai brand – Tiparos
If using Philippine style fish sauce add a spoonful of brown sugar
Olive oil for basting
Put all the ingredients together with the exception of the olive oil. Then marinade the shrimp/prawns for no less than 30 minutes or longer than an hour

Before grilling – remove all the marinade and brush each prawn with olive oil.
Continue basting the shellfish with the marinade until the shells turn pink. Be careful not to overcook them or they will turn tough.
Use barbecue sticks if desired but I prefer to barbecue them individually to keep them intact when serving.
Serve with Coconut rice ( Recipe follows)

coconut milk
fish sauce
fried shallots

Cook the rice the regular way, but substitute one third of the liquid with coconut milk. Season with fish sauce. When tasting the liquid, ensure that enough seasoning is added. Right before serving top with crispy fried shallots.

Mozarella stuffed kalabasa/zucchini blossoms

Mozzarella kesong puti stuffed kalabasa/zucchini blossoms


Once considered “poor man’s food” the kabocha or kalabasa blossoms as we know it has evolved in the culinary world. The Italians have served the blossoms as part of the meal for centuries. Stuffed with anything that is available in the Italian garden, it varies from mushrooms to ground meats. In the Philippines, my introduction was in an Ilokano dish which I savor to this day which was “inabraw” style – boiled with several veggies and seasoned with fish bagoong.
Today, the humble zucchini is served stuffed and deep fried. This is one version of the dish that I have used incorporating native ingredients like kesong puti or buffalo mozzarella. The twist is the inclusion of capers in the recipe.

12 zucchini or pumpkin blossoms
1.75 oz buffalo mozzarella/kesong puti – soften
1.75 oz cream cheese softened
2 tbsp capers (small)
Sea salt
Black pepper (ground)

1 egg (yolk and white separated)
1 cup flour
¼ cup cornstarch
1 to 2 cups beer – pilsen

Combine the yolk, the mozzarella, cream cheese, capers, a touch of salt and pepper in a mixing bowl and mix until it is slightly pasty.
Depending on the length of the zucchini stem you may need to cut some off, leave approx 4 cm (2 inches) attached to the flower.
Careful not to tear the blossoms, gently open up the zucchini or kabocha flowers and gently spoon the cheese mixture into the flowers and fill 2/3rds full.
Gently push the remaining air out of the flowers and squeeze the tips of the petals back together


Sift the flour and corn starch into a large mixing bowl, add a pinch of salt and pepper and make a well in the centre.
Slowly pour some of beer into the well and whisk as you add, slowly moving the whisk out from the well to incorporate more flour until the entire mixture is fluid and thick (it may not require all the beer, so add it slowly).
Whisk the egg white until frothy and fold into the batter mixture


Gently coat the flowers with the batter by dragging it in top of the mixture, after which turn the flowers down to allow the batter to seal it. Fry in vegetable oil which has been heated over medium high heat. Sprinkle sea salt immediately after and serve with lemon wedges on the side.

Spinach Banana Blossom Cheese Dip

This recipe is a deviation from the more popular Spinach Artichoke Dip – made from artichoke hearts and spinach leaves blanched before it is used.
One day, I was enjoying a nice bowl of Kare-kare – a Filipino dish made of several types of meat in a sauce of peanut butter base. It is served with native vegetables like eggplant, string beans and banana blossom. While partaking of kare-kare one day, I took bite of banana blossom, then recognized a familiar texture and taste.
It didnt come to me immediately where I had experienced this flavor until I had an afternoon pika-pika in a resto one day after work. One of my buddies ordered a spinach artichoke dip to go with our favorite beer – Stella Artois- that it hit me. This was the texture!
So what I have done is replace the expensive and sometimes difficult to find (in Manila) ingredient – artichoke hearts. Instead, what I used is the canned variety of banana blossoms which come plentiful here in San Francisco and costs about a third of what it might cost ($0.99)if using artichoke. Canned banana blossoms come soaked in brine which seem to remove the bitter taste of the fresh variety and without the sap.
The vegetable also is very tender and the same (not almost but the same) texture as artichoke when chopped. If one is using the fresh vegetable, i suggest boiling it in acidulated water by adding a tablespoon of white vinegar. Replace the water at least twice to ensure that the blossoms come clean without the bitter taste.
I have used bechamel sauce to extend the recipe – using less of the cheese but still providing that great creamy sauce.
Banana blossoms – cooked until tender and chopped
Bunch of spinach – cooked until wilted and chopped
1 1/2 cups parmesan cheese
1/2 block of cream cheese (room temperature) beaten
1/4 cup of sour cream
Dash of Worcestershire sauce
Bechamel sauce (recipe follows)
5 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups milk
2 teaspoons salt
dash nutmeg – (optional)

In a medium saucepan, heat the butter over medium-low heat until melted. Add the flour and stir until smooth. Over medium heat, cook until the mixture turns a light, golden sandy color, about 6 to 7 minutes. Taste the sauce, it should have a nice nutty flavor

Meanwhile, heat the milk in a separate pan until just about to boil. Add the hot milk to the butter mixture 1 cup at a time, whisking continuously until very smooth. Bring to a boil. Cook 10 minutes, stirring constantly, then remove from heat. Season with salt and nutmeg if using, and set aside until ready to use.

Combine the vegetables, sour cream, with half of the parmesan cheese, then layer into a heat proof dish. Alternate the vegetables, cheese and bechamel ending with a layer of bechamel topped with parmesan. I would add a sparse spoonful of breadcrumbs and knobs of butter to give it a nice crust.
Bake in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes but check at around 20 minutes. When a nice brown crust forms on top, the dish is done
Serve with crusty bread!
I guarantee that no one will know the difference if you used banana blossom in place of artichokes. In fact I found folks were delighted that banana blossoms were prepared in such a gourmet way.
Let me know how it goes by emailing me or adding a comment to the thread.

Chicken, Corn and Crab soup with Quail Eggs

On cold rainy days, one looks to their favorite comfort foods. One of mine is the classic Chinese soup which can easily be prepared quite quickly. Start with a few slices of ginger, three or four green onions and one chicken thigh. Boil in water until the meat is tender – approximately 15-20 minutes. Then add cream style corn – preferably the unsweetened one. If one is not available, what I use are frozen whole kernels and chop the kernels finely while still frozen. I add this to the chicken while boiling it, giving the corn time to impart its flavor to the stock. When the chicken is tender, take off the bone and pull the meat into shreds. Add another half cup of corn, about two tablespoons of wanton soup powder,crab meat – I use the canned ones which have been picked of shells and comparable in quality, beaten egg,and quail eggs. To thicken the soup, I use 1/2 tsp corn starch dissolved in 1/4 cup of water. I add this to the boiling soup until slightly thickened. Splash with sesame oil before serving.
Total Cost to feed 5 adults with second servings – $5.00
Canned crab – Caravelle brand from Thailand – $0.99 which one can purchase from any Asian store

Sapodilla or Chico or Chiku – Asian Fruit Recipe

Travelling in Southern California last year, I am always on the look-out for good places to photograph. I chanced upon a Mission – yes those set-up by the Spanish missionaries in California. This one had a fruit bearing tree in the yard, its fruit left to rot in the ground where they fell. Inspecting it closely, since the leaves looked quite familiar, I then realized that it was the sapodilla tree commonly known in the Philippines as chico or chiku in other parts of South Asia. What confirmed it was the distinctive scent of the flesh and its seed with its uncommon hook. Lest we forget, we were warned on numerous occassions by our grandmother to be careful when eating chico – or suffer a slashed throat should one swallow its seed unknowingly.
My introduction to the fruit was by my Grandmother – Dona Pilar Gregorio Castillo – the very person who inspired me to become a chef. Yes, she was and I know still is my guide. It was in our ancestral home on Northern Luzon – Pangasinan that I first encountered the chico fruit. My grandparent’s home was surrounded by various fruit trees – star apple, mabolo, mango of course, the chico and one that I could not bare to eat – the chessa. We enjoyed fresh fruit – tree ripened – what a way to partake of nature’s and God’s blessings.
Few chefs use the chico or sapodilla as ingredients in their recipes so I thought I would start with a simple one. Use it in a supporting role for dessert.
So here it is, hope you take time to try the humble chico in dessert and enjoy its subtle but complex flavor.

Rum-Spiked Grilled Pineapple with Toasted Coconut over Sapodilla compote and Banana Chips.


For the Spiked Pineapple:

1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup dark rum
1 pineapple, peeled, cored, and sliced crosswise or use the canned variety to save energy
½ segment star anise
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons sweetened coconut, toasted
Low-fat vanilla ice cream or coconut ice cream

Combine the star anise, sugar and rum in a pan. Over low heat let sugar dissolve and simmer for 1 1/2 minutes or until sugar dissolves. Brush rum mixture evenly over pineapple wedges.
Heat butter in a grill pan over medium-high heat. Add pineapple; grill 3 minutes on each side or until grill marks form and pineapple is thoroughly heated. Set aside

Sapodilla compote:

1 ¼ cup good red wine
¾ cup brown sugar
1 cup diced ripe sapodilla flesh (skin removed)
Juice of 1 lemon
1 bay leaf
1 segment star anise
1 cinnamon stick or ¼ tsp powdered cinnamon

On a non reactive pan boil red wine, then add brown sugar, lemon juice, bay leaf, star anise and cinnamon. When the sugar is dissolved add the sapodilla. Simmer for about 15 minutes until the fruit is dissolved into the liquid. You might help it by using a fork to press the fruit. Strain through a fine sieve and keep warm.


Get a scoop of good vanilla ice cream or my favorite is coconut ice cream. Place in bowl, top with the pineapple slices and insert several banana chips. Drizzle the sapodilla compote over the ice cream. Sprinkle with sweet coconut flakes that have been lightly toasted.