Monthly Archives: January 2009

Of pizza and pancit

The birthdays of my youth were celebrated with huge parties. My parents would invite entire families, not just kids. The house would be packed with people, and our dining room table would groan from the weight of the many dishes my mom and dad prepared and other food that guests would bring. The Filipino classics would all be there–mounds of lumpia (like an egg roll but better), platters of pancit (a stir-fried noodle dish), an enormous bowl of kare kare (a peanut stew with vegetables and oxtail) and so much more.

The centerpiece of the table would be a huge sheet cake. And in addition to the cake, there would be many other sweets because nobody could wait until the candles were blown out and the cake was cut to have to dessert. So you would eat dessert twice (if not multiple times).

The parties would last for at least three or four hours. Guests would take home paper plates laden with leftovers and covered with aluminum foil crimped around the edges. There was always too much food.

Everything changed when Showbiz Pizza (an early rival of Chuck E. Cheese) came to hometown in the early 1980s. I had never seen anything like it. There were video games, rides and a wonderful thing called skee-ball (which to this day I am addicted).

I don’t remember if I asked my mom to celebrate my 9th birthday there, or if it was her idea. In any case, gone was the Filipino family party and in was pepperoni and Whac-a-Mole.

Only pizza, pop and cake were served. I have no memory of the pizza, but I clearly recall the birthday cake. It was a 9-inch round, chocolate cake with white whipped cream frosting. I never had had whipped cream frosting before, and I thought I would die with happiness after tasting it.

The other thing that stands out in my mind was Showbiz Pizza’s in-house entertainment–the Rock-afire Explosion. This was an animatronic robot band comprised of several animal characters. I remember the girl mouse, Mitzi, and a bear singing the Kenny Rogers/Dolly Parton hit “Islands in the Stream.”

Many people have blogged about childhood trauma and nightmares caused by the Rock-afire Explosion, but I have nothing but fond memories of costumed robots belting out the best hits from the ’70s and ’80s.

So I was delighted to discover that they are back and now singing to the tunes of Shakira, the White Stripes and other current acts. Get the details about their YouTube comeback here.

And now, the Rock-afire Explosion performing Usher’s “Love in this Club.”


Filed under Filipino food, Food and race, Savory

More than I could chew

I decided to tackle three of my food resolutions and (hopefully) make some good food in the process.

When I did a roll call of the contents of my freezer, I discovered kielbasa among the frozen meats. And a thorough inspection of my cupboards brought forth (among other things) Zatarain’s rice mix.

These were the two main ingredients in a tasty Real Simple recipe for jambalaya that I had made a few years ago.

In the spirit of my resolution to rely less on recipes, I winged it and cooked the jambalaya on my own. First I browned the kielbasa. Then I added the rice mix and a 28 ounce can of whole tomatoes. I brought the mixture to a boil, reduced it to a simmer and put a lid on it for 25 minutes. At the end, I added some raw shrimp and heated everything through.

The result was this:

It turned out to be one of the worst dishes I have ever made! The main reason was because instead of using a jambalaya rice mix, I used a red beans and rice mix. I realized I had the wrong mix while I was browning the kielbasa but decided to move forward anyway.

The flavors in the red beans and rice mix didn’t complement the spicy kielbasa or the can of whole tomatoes that went into the dish. Instead, there was an all-out flavor war that resulted in nothing but an awful bitterness.

In making the jambalaya, I also managed to pull off a raw food hat trick: the beans, rice and shrimp weren’t fully cooked. There were a couple of things going on here. I didn’t put enough liquid in the pot to thoroughly cook the rice and beans. The liquid from the can of tomatoes would have cooked a jambalaya rice mix just fine, but the addition of the beans required extra liquid.

When it was time to add the shrimp, I didn’t think that the rice and beans looked done, but I decided to go ahead and throw in the shrimp. I thought the heat of the rice would cook the shrimp so I turned off the burner because I didn’t want the rice to burn. Wrong move. The pot needed to stay on low heat.

As bad as the jambalaya was, I couldn’t bear to throw it out because I hate wasting food. I brought it to work for lunch one day but couldn’t down more than three bites. I brought the leftovers home, fully intending to throw them out. But somehow they made it back into the fridge.

My husband ate the leftovers and told me–with a straight face– that the flavors had improved over the course of a few days.

Lessons learned:
1. I need to make sure I have the right ingredients before I start cooking.
2. I should trust my food instincts.
3. Some food cannot and should not be saved.
4. My husband is a saint.

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Filed under Food resolutions 2009, Savory, So wrong

Cake we can believe in

I saw this on Yes We Cake and just had to share. The detail work on this cake is amazing!

I’m thinking about making Obama pancakes for Inauguration Day.

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Filed under Barack Obama, Sweet

Delicious president


Just saw this post that I can now order cookies in the shape of President-Elect Barack Obama’s head. (See cute example above!)

Perhaps I’ll make some Yes Pecan ice cream sandwiches with these cookies.

Here are four things that I learned from a Google search of “Barack Obama, food.”

1. His food likes include pistachios, broccoli and handmade milk chocolates from Fran’s Chocolates, right here in Seattle. He also enjoys Spam musabi!

2. He doesn’t like beets, mayonaise or salt and vinegar potato chips.

3. Barack Obama’s mother briefly received food stamps to put food on the table when she needed help.

4. Many bloggers have commented on these 2001 video clips of Obama on a restaurant review show.

Spike from Top Chef is hosting an Inaugural Burger Ball. For a mere $99, you get eight mini burgers, mini fries (huh?), mini milkshakes, beer and wine.

This is definitely not a value meal.

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Filed under Barack Obama, Food as art, Sweet

See it wiggle, watch it jiggle…


How would the San Francisco Bay Bridge fare in an earthquake if it were entirely constructed from Jell-O? Ponder this and other flights of fancy when you check out artist Liz Hickok’s gelatin rendition of SF.

Neatorama has photos of several other amazing cityscape art made from eggs, cookware and other unusual objects.

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Filed under Food as art, Sweet

9 food resolutions for 2009

1. Cook a Filipino meal at least once a month.
My son just turned a year old, and I want to start introducing him to a key part of his heritage. But let’s be honest–this resolution is mostly for me. I miss Filipino food! I recently realized that I now only eat Filipino dishes at parties or restaurants. I rarely cook Filipino cuisine at home. I want Filipino food to be part of my family’s life every day. But I know I have to start slowly. My initial goal is once a month so that this resolution can be a successful one.

2. Inventory the contents of my freezer…
My husband makes a delicious cranberry sauce that friends and family frequently request for their Thanksgiving meals. So he made a big batch, gave a bunch away and froze the leftovers, which have been hanging out in our freezer–for two years.

3. …And figure out what’s in my cupboards.
Cleaning out the cupboard is akin to going through your closet. You rediscover old treasures (a pencil skirt/green lentils), find things you didn’t realize you had (cashmere gloves/Cincinatti chili mix) and re-live some mistakes (leopard print leggings/Manwich).

With the economy being what it is, food prices aren’t going down any time soon, and it’s time to make the most of what you have. But first you have to know what you have and where it is!

4. Use kitchen gadgets or give them away.
My husband and I put a mandoline on our wedding registry with ambitions of making our own potato chips, gratins and other dishes that required cutting foods ridiculously thin. How many times have we used the mandoline since we got it almost three years ago? Exactly once. And it’s still in its original box.

5. Learn how to cut a whole chicken into pieces.
It’s cheaper to buy a whole chicken and cut it up yourself. This task usually falls to my husband, but I am determined this year to learn what I consider a very basic kitchen skill.

6. Learn how to clean and cook a whole fish.
When I was a kid, my parents cooked fish at least once a week, and most of the time, the fish would be whole with the head and tail intact. Yum! I love eating fish, but I’ve never prepared any that wasn’t filleted. I’m not exactly excited about gutting or scaling a fish, but again, I think this is a skill that all (fish-eating) cooks should have.

7. Get my knives sharpened.
If I’m going to accomplish resolutions #5 and #6, my knives need to be in peak condition!

8. Rely less on recipes.
I yearn to be a more intuitive cook. I want to be able to whip up a great meal with whatever is in my fridge at the moment. I want to just know how to make a great lasagna.

Recipes are a good place to start and get inspiration, and I want to be able to have the confidence to cook on my own.

9. Make ice cream more often.
This year’s Christmas dinner was punctuated by delectable cinnamon ice cream made by my sister-in-law, Yvette. Making ice cream is relatively easy, and it’s something that always impresses people. When you serve homemade ice cream, someone will undoubtedly say, “You made this?” with a mix of wonder and gratitude. And homemade ice cream makes a unique and fabulous gift.

I’ll keep you updated on my food resolutions throughout the year. Here’s to a tasty 2009!


Filed under Filipino food, Food resolutions 2009, Ice cream, Savory, Sweet