Being at home 24/7 in the past year has brought out the best and worst in many of us: we have either learned to thrive or we’ve just barely survived. But personally, I am happy to be home because my days are filled with a flurry of activities—as in, no day or week is ever the same. Although I do worry about the bad news I see on TV and on social media, I try to focus on things that are within my locus of control.
Our home has always been a safe and quiet haven for me, but it has now become a hub of so much movement and stimuli. With my husband and two adult sons doing their own thing (one working from home and the other one attending online classes), along with two household helpers, the whole house is abuzz with activity from early morning to past midnight—with half of us awake until 2 or 3 AM even!
Though officially unemployed, I ended up balancing all these in a 16-hour day: work-related activities (writing, recipe-testing, Zoom meetings), home improvement (clearing out cabinets, organizing books and documents), spiritual nourishment (daily mass and weekly bible study), physical exercise (yoga or walking in the village), entertainment (Netflix and Youtube), social networking (Viber group chats, some Facebook) and of course, spending time in the kitchen, cooking or baking.
When the Cravings Hit
On most days, I get inspired by a simple craving or a recipe that I’ve seen on TV or a Netflix show. On other days, I get this sudden urge to create something new and march into the kitchen like a mad scientist eager to test a recipe idea. The problem is when one or two key ingredients are missing.
Gone are the days when we could saunter into any supermarket and leisurely peruse the aisles for new products. Gone are those moments when we can take our sweet time filling our carts with goodies. These days, when I absolutely have to brave the supermarket crowd, I rush in and out—trying to hold my breath the entire time, afraid to inhale recycled air. Sadly, this has robbed me of the fun and pleasure of grocery shopping.
Nonetheless, we still try to stock up on basic ingredients as often as we can, whether bought online or from our enterprising neighbors. That’s why this month’s recipes use ingredients that most households often have on hand—frozen ground meat and fish, some fresh vegetables, a supply of canned goods.
Quarantine Eats and Recipes
This month, I’m sharing some of our lockdown favorites in our home: Momma’s Meatloaf and Parmesan Fish Sticks with Creamy Garlic Dip. Leaning towards American comfort food, these dishes are both easy to make ahead of time. Plus, they always elicit an excited “yes!” from my sons whenever they see them on the table.
The third recipe is a “Leftover Makeover”. Sometime during the week, we inevitably have a “Leftover Lunch,” where I bring out all the containers in the fridge (that my sons did not eat for their midnight snacks), and serve them whether they pair together or not. In our prayer before meals, I say thanks then add that “having leftovers means God has provided us with more than we need”.
Think about it—this is the most practical thing to do so that no food goes to waste. We serve the dish as is, or sometimes recreate it into something else. Sautéed corned beef from breakfast can be made into a wrap for another day’s merienda or it can be transformed into a hearty soup for dinner, two days later. On the other hand, leftover roast chicken can be shredded and tossed into chilaquiles—a baked Mexican lasagna layered with tortilla chips, a chunky cilantro-tomato sauce, shredded cheese. Another favorite is leftover adobo reincarnated into Adobo Fried Rice bowls, topped with a sunny-side-up egg.
(from Cooking with Appetite, Favorite Global Recipes)
2 Tbsps. cooking oil
2 Tbsps. butter
1 cup chopped onions
¾ cup finely diced green bell peppers
½ cup finely chopped celery stalks
¾ kilo ground beef
¼ kilo ground pork
½ cup tomato catsup
¼ cup rolled oats or quick-cooking oats
1 ½ tsp. fine salt
1 tsp. ground black pepper
2 tsp. liquid seasoning
6 strips bacon
2 Tbsps. tomato ketchup
In a sauté pan, melt butter in oil over medium heat. Sauté onions until soft, then add green peppers and celery. Continue to cook for about 10 to 12 minutes or until the mixture is soft and mushy—all the while stirring occasionally. When the mixture begins to look like pickle relish, turn the heat off. Transfer to a bowl or plate and let it cool completely.
In a mixing bowl, combine ground beef, ground pork, eggs, tomato ketchup, oats, salt, pepper, and liquid seasoning. Add in the cooled onion-green pepper-celery mixture. Mix thoroughly until well-blended.
Prepare an 8”x 4” loaf pan. Line bottom with three strips of bacon. Pack the meat mixture into the pan, pressing down to squeeze out any air pockets. Smoothen the top with a spoon then place remaining strips of bacon on top. Brush the bacon generously with tomato ketchup.
Cover the loaf pan loosely with foil and bake the meatloaf in a pre-heated 375F oven. Remove foil after an hour to allow the top to brown, then continue to cook for 30 minutes more. Take the meatloaf out of the oven, then carefully tilt the pan to pour out any rendered liquid drippings.
Meatloaf drippings may be discarded or made into a simple gravy. Just cook 2 Tbsps. flour in 2 Tbsps. strained oily drippings over low-medium heat for 1 minute. Pour in 1 ½ cups chicken broth. Stir with a whisk until smooth. Season with salt, pepper, and liquid seasoning.
Let the meatloaf rest for 15 to 20 minutes before serving. To make clean and even slices, you can chill the meatloaf before slicing. To reheat, cover meatloaf with aluminum foil then reheat in a 350F oven for 15 to 20 minutes.
Parmesan Fish Sticks
(from Let’s Cook with Nora, 2019 edition)
2 pcs. white fish fillet (frozen fish like cream dory will do)
½ cup evaporated or full cream milk
½ tsp. fine salt
¼ tsp. ground white pepper
1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
½ tsp. fine salt
¼ tsp. ground white pepper
2 eggs, beaten
2 tsp. milk
1 cup fine bread crumbs or Japanese breadcrumbs
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese (Note: No need to use expensive Italian Parmesan cheese. The grated parmesan cheese in a green can is perfect for this recipe.)
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
½ tsp. dried basil
1 cup cooking oil, for frying
CREAMY GARLIC DIP:
¼ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup sour cream
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
½ Tbsp. grated garlic
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
½ tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
¼ tsp. fine salt
Thaw fish fillets then dry thoroughly on both sides with paper towels. Cut into long strips, then set aside.
Combine milk, salt, and pepper in a bowl. Soak fish sticks in this mixture for 5 minutes. Pour into a strainer to drain off excess liquid.
In a clean plastic bag, mix together flour, salt, and ground white pepper. In a shallow bowl, lightly beat the eggs with milk. And in another bowl, combine breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese, parsley, and basil.
Put the fish sticks in the plastic bag with seasoned flour, 4 to 5 pieces at a time. Hold the open end, then shake to coat fish pieces. Remove from the bag and dust off excess flour from fish pieces. Set coated fish on a tray.
Dip fish sticks in the beaten egg mixture, then coat with the seasoned breadcrumbs. Arrange fish sticks on a plate and leave them to chill in the refrigerator for 15 to 20 minutes for the coating to set.
Time to make the Creamy Garlic Dip! In a bowl, combine mayonnaise, sour cream, Dijon mustard, grated garlic, parsley, lemon juice, and salt, then mix well.
Heat cooking oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Fry the Parmesan Fish Sticks until golden brown on all sides. Serve with Creamy Garlic Dip.
Leftover Makeover: Corned Beef and Cabbage Soup
1 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium ripe tomato, diced
1 small potato, peeled and diced (soak in water to prevent discoloration)
Dash of ground black pepper and ground white pepper
1 small wedge cabbage, thinly sliced
In a medium pot, heat butter and olive oil. Toss in onions and sauté until soft and fragrant. Next, add garlic. Continue to cook for a minute, then add tomatoes. Sauté until the mixture is soft and mushy.
Drain diced potatoes first, then add to the pot together with the corned beef.
Pour chicken broth and bring heat up to a boil. Cover the pot, turn heat to low, and let simmer for 15 minutes. Taste the soup, and then season with salt and pepper if needed. Turn the heat off.
To serve, bring soup to a boil, then toss cabbage in. Let it simmer for 2 to 3 minutes. Serve hot.
Indeed, this crazy pandemic has kicked in our instincts to survive. But thankfully, it has also taught us how to thrive by being creative and innovative in the kitchen. And in the midst of uncertainty and worry, we turn to comforting food to ease the mind, satisfy the belly, and soothe both spirit and soul.
A proud home cook and cookbook author, Nina is in love with the cooking process. She believes there's something magical about bringing random ingredients together to create a cohesive dish that's delicious, nourishing, and satisfying. She likens cooking in the kitchen to a dance, with its many movements, rhythmic sounds, and stimulating smells, all working together in perfect harmony and synchronicity.
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