Chicken Noodle Soup for the Broken Hearted by L

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My Mama’s Chicken Noodle Soup, excellent with Allison’s Cornbread!

“I used to hate this when we were little,” my brother said, one night as I served our mother’s chicken noodle soup for dinner.

“Me too,” I replied with a laugh.

“But now, I really like it,” he added, as he raised a spoonful of soup to his mouth.

“Me too,” I answered as I continued to enjoy my bowl.

This conversation took place some years after we had been living in our newly adopted city of Prague, far away from our hometown, far away from our family. It made me wonder if all that distance and missing “home” had somehow made this soup tastier and more delicious than ever. Even after so many years, I still haven’t found it easy to live in one place and have my heart in another. For me, that about sums up the biggest challenge in the life of an ex-pat.

My daughters and I have just returned back to Prague after two months of living la vida loca in my hometown of New York City. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, godparents, cousins and childhood friends galore visited us and filled our lives with joy and happiness. Although we have a wonderful and loving group of friends (who are like family) in Prague, there was still something that felt very sad about coming back “home.”

All you need is...

All you need is…

In our family, the word “home,” holds so many different meanings. We have our “home base” in Prague, but then there’s our “home” in Spain and there is also our “home” in New York City. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining here. I truly appreciate that we get to experience all these different places and live a life abroad. I just wish there was a way that we could live it with our families close by. That would probably ease the pain of having to say good-bye at the end of each stay and my heart wouldn’t be shattered to pieces. Parting seems to be a lot more difficult now that I have entered this new stage of life. Since becoming a mother, I swell up with truckloads of emotions when it comes to leaving my family. It saddens me that my kids won’t see their grandparents on a daily basis or have the chance to drop in on their cousins anytime they want. In my life B.K. (Before Kids), this thought rarely crossed my mind. Now, I try to find many ways to cope with the great distances and deal with the long separations. Thank goodness for Skype, I guess.  I know I’ll get over it as soon as our Prague life returns to order, but I will still miss my family. So, maybe this is why the first thing I wanted to cook when we returned home was my mama’s chicken noodle soup.

It’s a very simple soup. The most important ingredient you need is a good broth. Now, don’t skimp out and throw in a cube of chicken bouillon. It really doesn’t take much effort to make a pot of homemade chicken stock. You will definitely notice a difference!

I can’t remember why I disliked this soup as a child. These days, I cherish every spoonful. I hope you will too!

A cure for the broken heart: Chicken Noodle Soup

A cure for the broken heart: Chicken Noodle Soup

Mama’s Chicken Noodle Soup

Broth:

1/2 chicken with bones

10-12 cups of water

1/2 tsp. oregano

1/2 tsp. thyme

1/2 tsp. sage

1 bay leaf

Salt to your liking

Cut the chicken into pieces.

Put all the ingredients together in a deep pot.

Bring to a boil, then let simmer for about 30 minutes to 2 hours. (The longer the better 🙂

When it cools down, remove chicken and discard bay leaf.

Discard the skin and begin to shred the meat off the bones into thin pieces.

Return shredded pieces of chicken to the pot.

Set aside.

For the rest of the soup:

2 medium-sized carrots, julienne style

2 sticks of celery, sliced thinly

1 onion, chopped

1 cup of cabbage, sliced thinly

1/2 cup of elbow macaroni

In a shallow frying pan, heat 2-3 tablespoons of oil.

When ready, add the onion and cook until translucent.

Then add the carrots and celery.

Stir and cook until tender, but still crisp.

Reheat the chicken stock.

When it starts boiling, add the onions, carrots and celery.

Lower flame to a simmer.

Let it cook for about 20 minutes.

Then add the cabbage and macaroni.

Cook for another ten minutes or until cabbage and pasta are done.

Optional: Pour 1/4 cup of milk or cream. (My mom always added this in at the end, it was a Filipino thing :))

Season with salt and pepper to your liking.

Enjoy with Allison’s Gluten Free Cornbread and remember all those happy days with your family!

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Ain’t No Ham Like the One I Know by L

Ham here. Ham there. Ham everywhere. In our house, Christmas dinner isn’t a dinner without a ham.

Hamon:Filipino Style!

Hamon:Filipino Style!

One of the guest stars at our family’s table during these holidays was the deliciously sweet and tender Filipino Hamon! It’s so simple to make and will leave your taste buds wanting more! This post will be short as I know many of you are busy getting ready to say farewell to 2012 and welcome the new year.

So, I’ll say on behalf of The Prague Basket, we hope you and your family had the merriest of Christmases and may 2013 bring you much fortune, happiness, love, joy and good ham!

Filipino Hamon  (best if prepared the night before serving)

All set for the carving!

All set for the carving!

1 Cured Pork Butt on the bone, with or without skin, it is up to you, so are the grams and kilos)

1 bottle of beer

1/2 container of pineapple juice

1 liter bottle of  7/up or Sprite

2 bay leaves

1/2 -1 cup of brown sugar (depends on how large your ham is)

Sliced pineapple rings

Maraschino cherries

Parsley

In a large pot, add all the liquid ingredients, ham and 2 bay leaves.

Let the marinade come to a boil and then turn the heat down.

Let the ham simmer for 30 minutes.

Then let it sit overnight. Be sure to rotate it at some point.

For the next day…

Heat oven to 200 celsius or 400 fahrenheit.

Place ham in a large baking pan.

Take a brush and glaze the ham with the liquid marinade.

Then rub the ham with brown sugar. Make sure it is evenly coated.

Bake for 30 minutes.

Garnish with sliced pineapple rings, maraschino cherries and parsley.

Best way to have leftover ham!

Best way to have leftover ham. A post-Christmas ham and cheese sandwich!

Lola’s Lumpia by L

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Whoever came up with the line “One is the loneliest number,” clearly did not have relatives living on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean. In our Spanish/Filipino household, turning one has never been sweeter! A few days before T & P reached their first birthday, their Spanish grandparents hosted a Valencian fiesta to mark this momentous occasion. In our part of Spain, a party is not a party without a Valencian paella to feed forty people! That was party #1.

In Prague, party #2 was a delicious picnic in the park, thrown by the girls’ fairy godmothers, for all of their close friends. The main attraction was the cupcake centerpiece. Tiers of four different flavored cupcakes sat pretty in polka-dotted liners for all to enjoy!

Last, but definitely not the least, it was the Filipino-New York family’s side to celebrate T & P’s First Birthday. Yes, you are reading this correctly. Not one, not two, but three birthday parties in one year. That’s what happens when you’re born in Prague and live in Prague, but one set of Grandparents live in Spain and the other in New York City.

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Party #3 was a Filipino buffet with a 3 foot hero to remind us of NYC roots. On the menu was palabok (rice noodles in shrimp sauce), kare-kare (beef and vegetables stewed in a flavorful peanut sauce), Filipino BBQ (barbequed pork in a sweet filipino style marinade), dinuguan (filipino version of blood pudding) and of course a Filipino party isn’t a party without the ultimate Filipino Finger Food: Lumpia!

Inside our Filipino version of the fried egg roll, you’ll find a medley of sautéed vegetables, such as sweet potato, carrots, potato, celery and green beans, along with tofu and plenty of garlic. You can eat this crispy roll plain, but there is also the delicious option of  dipping it into a side sauce of vinegar, soy sauce and crushed garlic. All of this just screams: “Comfort food!!!!”

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Growing up, I can’t recall ever going to a Filipino hosted event without ever seeing lumpia on the table. I would definitely bet that if you ever visited a Filipino home, you would even find some rolls stored in the freezer. Lumpia is our party food staple and it can be addictive. Once you bite into one, it’s over. You will soon eat another and then another and then…. well, I think you get the picture.

For my daughters’ birthday party, Lola (tagalog for grandmother) cooked all the lumpia for the party. It’s not the easiest dish to whip up. There are hours and hours of preparation needed for these delightful rolls. All the vegetables must be finely chopped and then stir fried. Once they have cooled down, it’s time to wrap and then finally fry them up. It’s an arduous task, but one that will put endless smiles on the lucky eaters.

I was hoping to get a video of my mom wrapping the egg rolls up because there is definitely an art to this, but sadly with all the party preparations, we didn’t get a chance to do so. Maybe next year, when the girls turn two.

Lola’s Lumpia

Ingredients:

For the filling

  • 4 medium carrots, peeled and cut crosswise into chunks
  • 8 to 10 ounces green beans, trimmed
  • 10 inner ribs celery, trimmed, strings removed
  • 1 medium onion, cut into quarters
  • 1/2 large head green cabbage (outer leaves discarded), cut into chunks
  • 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
  • 5 large cloves garlic
  • 4 blocks of tofu, drained
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
  • Pinch plus 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For the lumpia

  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons flour or cornstarch
  • 36 8-inch square, thin spring roll sheets, can be found in Asian grocery stores (in Prague too!)
  • 3 cups canola oil, for frying

For the sauce

  • 2 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup white vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons low-sodium soy sauce
  • Pinch sugar (optional)
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

For the filling: Chop the following ingredients into thin matchstick slices or use a food processor, placing the ingredients in separate bowls as they are done: the carrots, to yield 2 cups; green beans, to yield 2 cups; celery, to yield 2 cups; onion, to yield 1 cup; cabbage, to yield 6 cups; sweet potatoes, to yield 5 1/2 cups;  garlic, to yield about 2 tablespoons.

Slice the tofu blocks into thin squares. Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a non-stick frying pan. Fry a few slices of tofu together until golden. Stand them upright in a colander/strainer lined with a paper towel, to release excess oil and let it cool down. When ready, chop tofu into smaller pieces.

Heat 2-3 tablespoons of oil in a well-seasoned wok or shallow pan over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes, stirring, until the garlic is fragrant but not burned. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes, stirring, until it has softened. Add the cabbage and celery, cook for 15 minutes, stirring often.

Add the sweet potatoes and cook for 10 minutes or until softened, stirring often, then add the carrots and green beans; cook for 15 minutes or until softened, stirring often. Add the cooked tofu, some more oil if necessary, the remaining teaspoon of black pepper and the remaining 2 or 3 tablespoons of soy sauce (to taste). Mix well and cook until all the vegetables are tender and of the same texture. Let cool almost completely.

While the filling cools, make the paste and prepare the wrappers for the lumpia. Mix the warm water and flour/cornstarch together until you get a slightly thin pasty texture.

When you open your package of wrappers, you must separate the wrappers, one by one. Carefully pull them apart and separate them, stacking them alternately as square and diamond shapes on a plate. Cover with a clean, damp dish towel until ready to use.

Usually there are visual instructions on the back of every egg roll package that demonstrates how to roll lumpia, but just in case here’s how to assemble lumpia:
Place 1 wrapper on the table or counter in front of you, one corner should point towards you. Place a tablespoonful of the filling about 2 inches above the corner closest to you and  spreading it out into a mini log. Lift and fold the corner pointing towards you, over the filling, tucking it snugly against the vegetables and tofu, so the corner lays flat.

Roll the filling twice, then neatly fold in the left-hand and right-hand sides of the wrapper. Roll once again, then dip your fingers into the cooled water-flour or cornstarch mixture and use them to dampen the remaining wrapper to be rolled. Roll the lumpia as tightly as possible, ending with the far corner of the wrapper. The lumpia should be about 4 inches long. Place the rolled lumpia in a single layer on a plate and cover with plastic wrap or wax paper. Repeat.

When you are ready to cook the lumpia,  line a colander with several layers of paper towels.  Heat the canola oil in a medium saucepan over high heat.

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Fry a few lumpia at a time until crisped and browned. I recommend using tongs to help you turn them over. If the oil is heated properly, it should take about 2 1/2 minutes for the lumpia to brown on both sides. Transfer the lumpia to the lined colander when they are done. Repeat to cook all of the lumpia.

For the sauce: Whisk together the garlic, vinegar and soy sauce in a small bowl.  Serve alongside the hot lumpia.

If you don’t want to cook all the lumpia at once, feel free to freeze them. You can do the same with if there is a lot of the filling left over. Enjoy! Ang sarap!

Arroz Caldo Comfort by L

Last week, every family member’s immune system under our roof, was attacked by some terrible and nasty germs. Stomach virus, bronchitis and respiratory infection were the evil characters that crept into our systems and viciously brought us down. Fortunately, one member of our household was able to fight off all the naughty culprits and take extra special care of us. That was Lola (that’s Grandma in Filipino.)

Arroz Caldo (with Chicken on the left, with Tofu on the right) topped with fried pieces of garlic

One of the foods I crave when I’m sick is my mother’s Arroz Caldo. Yes, these are Spanish words that you are reading, but it’s also the name of a dish in the Philippines. A literal translation would be “rice broth.” For me, it’s the ultimate comfort food for all kinds of ailments and I begged my mom to cook it for us. It may look like an ordinary bowl of porridge, but it’s not. The heavy amounts of slivered ginger, finely minced garlic and homemade chicken broth will quickly nurse you back to your regular self. Ginger can soothe that sore throat, garlic helps boost your immune system and the chicken broth, well, we all know what a good bowl of chicken soup can do for the soul, right? (My dear vegetarian friends, don’t feel left out! There is also a veggie version of this, and a stock of fresh vegetable broth has all those healing properties and more!)

Lola choosing her bird

Lola D purchased a whole chicken from the Andel farmers market that takes place every Friday in the Prague 5 neighborhood. She also picked up some local garlic, but the sweet glutinous rice and ginger used in the recipe, were bought at specialty shops around town. My mom is a big believer in the magic of garlic, so she never holds back (remember that she didn’t fall ill, hmmm?) However, if you have no need to fend off vampires, feel free to decrease the amount.

Local Czech garlic

For my one year old daughters, Lola made a milder version (less gingery and peppery) to keep them nourished during their phase of discomfort. As the season continues to change with viruses and infections lurking through the air; searching to invade and disrupt our immune systems, I hope that you will be well protected. However, if you are in need of some extra armor or a remedy, a bowl of Arroz Caldo should do the trick!

“Gimme my porridge!”

Arroz Caldo  (feeds 6-8)

1 small chicken, cut into pieces

1/4 cup of thinly sliced ginger

1 head of garlic and then another 10 cloves, all minced

1 onion, chopped

3-4 tablespoons of vegetable oil

1 tablespoon of fish sauce (patis in Tagalog) OPTIONAL

1 cup of sweet glutinous rice

1 cup of jasmine rice

8-10 cups of water

1-2 strands of saffron

salt and pepper to taste

Cut the head of garlic in minced pieces.

Heat oil in a small frying pan.

Fry until golden brown.

Drain and set aside.

In a large pot, heat oil and add the 10 cloves of minced garlic and ginger.

Cook until slightly golden.

Add onion. When it is translucent, add the chicken.

Turn heat to low and continue to saute for about 15-20 minutes.

The chicken should “sweat” and begin to add some juices to the mixture.

Afterwards, add both types of rice, patis if you are using and then 8-10 cups of water.

If you want a thick porridge, stick with the lower number. If you want a more soupy porridge, use 10 cups of water.

Add saffron.

Let it boil and then lower the heat.

Cook until rice is thoroughly done, about 40 minutes.

Season to taste.

Serve with sprinkles of roasted garlic, extra fish sauce, or lemon or soy sauce or vinegar or a combination of any of these condiments.

(Note for Vegetarians: Use vegetable broth instead of chicken and cups of water. Take a block of tofu and chop into pieces. Fry in 2-3 tablespoons of oil. When porridge is ready to serve, top with fried tofu, ginger and any of the above mentioned condiments.)

You say “Tortilla,” I say “Torta,” let’s call the whole thing…by L

… an omelette. 🙂

Torta: A Filipino Omelette Story

In our household, a number of languages are spoken throughout the day. You’ll hear English, Tagalog, Catalan and Castellano. Along with a diverse number of languages, also comes a variety of dishes coming out of our kitchen.

Onions from Holesovice Market

My mom is in town and at the moment, our stomachs are being well nourished by her homemade Filipino dishes. I love my mom’s cooking and her meals remind me of growing up and living under her roof all over again, minus the curfews. When my brothers and I were kids, we always looked forward to eating Mom’s “Torta.”

Fresh carton of eggs from the Andel Market

For a Filipino person, the word “torta,” means an omelette made with a mix of different ingredients. This could be eggs made with any of the following: eggplant, onions, tomatoes, ground meat, potatoes, green peas or peppers. Some “tortas” can be prepared using one of these ingredients or a combination of them. For this post, mom used onions, potatoes, red and green peppers. As winter continues to push autumn away, (our first snowfall was on Oct.27th!) we will begin to depend on these kinds of vegetables, as well as carrots and cabbage to get us through the coldest of seasons.

Czech potatoes from Holesovice Market

Now, back to our language study. Well, “torta” in Spanish means cake and it is highly probable that this word was adopted by Filipinos when Spain conquered the Philippine islands many decades ago. What’s interesting to me about the use of this word, is how a Filipino “torta” does resemble a small pancake. In my husband’s native soil of Spain, this dish would be referred to as “tortilla.” In Spain, this word does not mean a piece of flat bread used to hold a number of hearty Mexican fillings inside. A “tortilla” is an omelette that is also made with a variety of fillings, such as potatoes, onions, tuna, spinach or my all-time favorite: artichokes. The main difference between the Filipino and the Spanish one is that my people’s version comes in several small round pancake size servings, whereas the Spanish style omelette is as large as the pan it is cooked in and meant to be cut and served at the table. (My husband makes a very tasty “tortilla de patata” and I hope he will guest blog about it in the future.)

Peppers in all sorts of shades from the Andel Market

With the sudden changes of temperature in Prague, it looks like the forecast will be potatoes, potatoes and more potatoes to come. So, Prague friends and those outside our borders, when you are tired of your usual bramborak (the Czech potato pancake) try the Filipino version!

Mama de la Isla’s Torta Special (Makes about 24 small-medium sized pieces of torta)

Mama de la Isla: the one and only!

8 medium-sized potatoes, peeled and chopped into small pieces

8 cloves of garlic, minced

1/2 tomato, chopped

1 large onion, chopped

7 medium-sized eggs

1/2 red pepper, chopped into small pieces

1/2 green pepper, chopped into small pieces

2 to 3 tablespoons of olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in large pan.

Add garlic, onion, tomatoes and let it cook for about 5-7 minutes.

Then add the potatoes.

Stir well and cook until potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, beat the eggs in a large bowl.

Add the chopped pepper.

When the potato mixture is ready, let it cool then add it to the eggs and pepper.

If the potatoes are too hot, it will cook the egg and you don’t want that to happen.

Stir until well combined.

Heat a large non-stick frying pan, turn heat to low.

Drop about 1/3 of a cup of the mix to the pan. (There is no need to add extra oil for frying because there is enough oil in the mixture.)

When the bottom looks cooked, take your most trusted spatula and carefully flip the torta over.

Repeat until all the mixture has disappeared.

Enjoy with a plate of rice and tomatoes. (I like to also have a side of ketchup on hand. Yes, I am a true Filipina!)

OR… as a sandwich

¡Torta con pan!

My Mama’s EGG-cellent Omelette by L

Guess how many eggs I brought home from the farmers’ market? When I lived in the US, my eggs always came in a dozen and that’s what I asked for at the farmer’s stall in the Andel Market. The vendor politely told me that  I had two choices. I could choose between the magic numbers of 10 or 15.  I took 15 .

I have been truly blessed. Raising two infants is not an easy task and fortunately my mother and in-laws have taken turns giving up their lives in NY and Spain to come and help me care for our children.  There is even more magic in all this, both my mother and mother-in-law are excellent cooks. And since the birth of my daughters, I happily turned over the reigns of my kitchen to their hands and enjoyed their delicious home cooked meals.

With 15 eggs,  the possibilities are endless, so on this particular Friday, I asked my mom to make “her” omelette, which in our Filipino household is called: “torta.” I grew up on this simple meal composed of eggs, tomatoes, onions and garlic.  Sometimes, I ate it stuffed between two slices of white bread and a dollop of ketchup for   lunch when I was in elementary school and other times, it was served with garlic fried rice for breakfast.

Here’s how to make it:

Ingredients:

4 eggs

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 onion, chopped

1 tomato, chopped

Heat 2 Tablespoons of oil. Then fry the garlic until golden brown and then add the onions and tomatoes. While that is cooking,  place the four eggs in a bowl and beat. When the garlic/onion/tomato combination is completely cooked through, add it to the eggs and mix well. Then return the entire mixture to the pan. When you think the bottom side is cooked, flip it over. When both sides are done, enjoy with some bread or the good old Filipino way, with some garlic friend rice on the side. In my case, it was that and a tofu sausage!