Sunday, September 05, 2010

Been A Long Time...

... and I should have written about Smileys Chocolate Covered Mint Cookies and all my Unimart finds and experiences since my family moved to Greenhills area and I officially stopped being QC Girl :( and became San Juan woman with all the baggage that comes with it (read: living in Ejercito territory where constituents are greeted during New Year's by a banner over at City Hall proclaiming greetings from, and I quote, "President Joseph Ejercito Estrada, First Lady Gia Ejercito, and Mayor JV Ejercito". Emphasis on First Lady. Snort.). Somehow, though, life has a way of taking you away from what's important (like food) by distracting you with such trivialities as work, family obligations, and research required for what used to be a for-fun-Ph.D. but is now the Holy Grail of my life as a beleaguered doctoral candidate. But I don't like to complain.

So instead I will just wax, albeit belatedly, about the glorious, cheap, finds and steals that trusty, crusty, old Unimart has been offering its equally crusty, old, Chinoy and Kastilaloy (my sister's term for Castilian Pinoys) merchant community.

1) Arbitrary Sales of imported chips, candies, and choccies. We've been doing grocery shopping at Unimart for almost two years now and have, on numerous occasions, enjoyed imported chips, candies, and chocolate at reduced prices. There seems to be no reason for these sales, perhaps other than that the products are nearing their best-before date. Although, the sales happen so arbitrarily and ostensibly without schedule that I sometimes doubt it's about inventory clearance. Anyway, it matters not why, only that I get to enjoy Cheetos Puffs, Cheetos Crunchy Jalapeno, Butter Fingers Crisps, and Kraft Caramel Candies, etc. at 20% off. Not bad for a grocery store that doesn't seem to have a budget for cleaning its grimy exterior and replacing the signage. Good thing I'm not finicky.

2) Democratic pricing. The price range for many products sold at Unimart is unbelievably wide, from lowest of the low end options to high end stuff. This is great for shopping within a specified budget. It also allows you to buy, on a regular basis, those products that would normally be relegated to your "for special occasions" buys. My favorite "chourmet" (that's my word for cheap gourmet) buys are EVOO and red wine vinegar (Capri brand is the cheapest so far and, frankly, not so bad, good for everyday cooking and my twice-a-week hair conditioning; followed by Dona Elena and Bertolli's) and pasta (Balducci is a good, cheap, brand; also, San Remo for its vegeroni). Clara Ole has cheap, but tasty, spaghetti sauces. I've tried 3 variants so far and they all work particularly the Italian Style and Three Cheese sauces. Del Monte also has a new Tomato Cream sauce that I've used for making a ham and cheese quesadilla. (Although, it's easy to make your own tomato cream sauce. Just combine your favorite marinara/tomato/spaghetti sauce and all purpose cream, et voila! Tomato cream.).

3) Swift Black Label Corned Beef. This is our new, cheaper, alternative to Purefoods Corned Beef since our original alternative, Argentina Gold Label, disappeared from Unimart's shelves. The Swift Black Label tastes just like the Argentina Gold and is cheaper than Purefoods by around 3-5 pesos I think (which translates to a lot if you buy 6-8 cans at a time).

4) Smileys Chocolate Covered Mint Cookies. I made this happy discovery at Unimart. At only around 31 pesos for a box of 8 cookies, it's a really tasty, economical, find. The strawberry option is not at all tasty like the mint one, so to me, it's not worth the price. Only the mint cookies are worth the price. I introduced my good friend, Lin, to Smileys and she and her boys are now even bigger fans. Prior to these cookies appearing on the shelves of other grocery stores, I used to buy her 2 boxes at a time for her Smileys fix.

5) Frozen meats and the deli section. You can find Santi's and other brands of cold cuts and sausages at Unimart's frozen meats section. My favorites are the lyoners, hungarian and garlic sausages, and pepperoni. I pair gourmet sausages with cheap CDO or King Sue brand bacon for my meat pasta. It's always good to pair ordinary with gourmet quality because if you go too cheap with your ingredients, your final product might taste just that, cheap.

6) Kastilaloy before you at the counter. This is neither a find nor a steal. Rather, it's a quirk of the Unimart shopping experience, an immensely enjoyable quirk. My sister and I, one time, were behind this big-boned, Castilian grandma. We knew she was Castilian not because she had the aquiline nose and high brow, but because she was speaking in a mix of Spanish and Castilian-accented English and, hilariously, paying with a check with the amounts written in Spanish. So instead of writing on her check "18,000.00 pesos" or "Eighteen Thousand only" (she bought a lot of stuff; I think I saw 1 gallon bottles of some kind of liquor), she wrote "18.000,00" (because as we know, the Spanish write their numbers with the dot and comma interchanged) and "Dieciocho Mil".

Only in Unimart. This would never have happened in Shopwise.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

It's A Crazy, Sploggy World Out There!

Test post after crazy splog scare. I think I accidentally flagged my own blog (doink!) when I tried to report abuse (spam in my comments section). And not the tasty kind of SPAM. Ugh. I'm hoping Blogger doesn't disable or lock or remove this blog, but I guess I'll have to wait.

Hope this post appears.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Burning Question... Answered

I started this blog in August, 2006, almost four years ago, and in all that time, I've posted only around 5 pictures of the foods I cook, eat, and rave about. Well, maybe not 5; more like... 7 or 8. The point is, I seem to have posted too few food photos that I'm sure at least some of you may be wondering... What does she have against food photography?

Just to set the record straight--because there are days when I like to pretend that I'm a celebrity "setting the record straight", as it were, in an effort to contain the backlash of a controversy I am embroiled in. Today is one of those days...

Anyway, just to set the record straight, I don't have anything against food photography. (Twit your friends...)

I think it takes great skill to, for instance, take a cheesecake, set it against a magenta background, top it with real blueberries with a berry or two falling off the cake, drizzle it with viscous blueberry puree so that the creamy, white, cake looks like it's drooling blueberries... and not eat the cake. Instead, you get your trusty camera, fiddle with it while ignoring. Ignoring the cake. Then you take a photograph of your cake because, perhaps, you'd rather have the photograph than the real thing.

THAT takes skill... and a little bit of crazy.

One of the more well-known experiments in psychology was the Marshmallow Test where children were brought, one by one, into a room where a marshmallow sat on a plate on a table. A pretty, yummy, marshmallow. The children were told, "You may eat the marshmallow. However, you have a choice to not eat this marshmallow and wait a bit. If you can wait, oh say, 5 minutes, someone will come in and give you another one. So then, you can have two marshmallows. Two." Then they were left alone to make that all important decision: to eat (now) or not to eat.

Well, turns out, some kids gobbled up the marshmallow immediately. The promise of a second marshmallow was not enough to override the hunger to have the first marshmallow, NOW!

I'm convinced that food stylists and photographers would have passed the marshmallow test as children. I wouldn't have. I would have gobbled up that marshmallow even before the experimenter finished her spiel. I would have set a new record for failing the marshmallow test. It would have shamed my parents.

That's why I don't take too many pictures of the foods I cook. I don't have the patience for it. Usually, my plate's half empty by the time I remember to take a picture. And it seems vainglorious to insert a photo of me or my family AFTER having eaten, looking sated and almost Zen. (Seriously, have you ever encountered or yourself used the word "vainglorious" in a blog post? Uh-may-zing. Sometimes, I surprise myself).

You can't take a pic of your cake and eat it too. At least, not at the same time.

Friday, January 01, 2010

BOCHOGNOMICS: Pasta, Pasta, y Quesadilla

To kick off the new year, and per Ate My’s suggestion, I am changing the way I present recipes to include pricing. I am calling my new recipe series Bochognomics. This, of course, is in tribute to Kitchenomics, Del Monte’s popular marketing campaign. It’s very 90s but I am, after all, a 90s kid.

For this first installment of Bochognomics, I present two pasta and a quesadilla recipes. Pricing, by the way, is based mostly on Unimart prices. (More on the glory of Unimart in a subsequent post).

Sardine Pasta

This is a recipe for the Linguine with Sardines that I cooked for the Faculty Christmas Party of UP Psych where I now teach. The professors and instructors loved it and polished off all 1.5 kilos of it. Ma’am Ly, a colleague, asked if I took orders. To which I replied, “If I took orders, I’d never finish my dissertation.” By the way, if the recipe seems familiar, that’s because it’s quite similar to past sardine pasta recipes I’ve created.

Ingredients: (Pricing)
1.5 kg linguine (Php 44.75 / 500g Balducci brand)
7 cans fried sardines (Php 15.95 / can)
6-7 native tomatoes, chopped (Php 47.00 approx.)
1 bottle capers, drained (Php 84.75 Doña Elena brand)
2 160g cans tomato paste (Php 16.50 / 160g Jolly brand)
2 tbsp minced garlic (from pantry)
1 tbsp minced onions (from pantry)
olive oil, for sautéing (from pantry, Capri and Doña Elena are cheap but good brands in the Php 100++ range / 500 ml for pure and extra virgin)
Italian seasoning, s&p (from pantry, Php 38.25 / 13g bottle McCormick brand)
Fresh basil, all torn up (from pantry, Php 37.75 / 100g approx)
Grated parmesan (optional) (Php 94.50 / 200g Kraft brand)

1 Saute onions and garlic.
2 Add tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Saute for a few minutes.
3 Add fried sardines. (Debone sardines and remove laurel leaves prior to adding them). Stir for a few minutes.
4 Add tomato paste. Add water to thin the sauce if it gets too thick.
5 Add fresh basil, Italian seasoning, and capers. Season with s&p, to taste.
6 Let simmer.
7 Add cooked linguine (or any other pasta). Toss.
8 Serve and enjoy.

Pasta with Meat Sauce

I cooked this last night for New Year’s Eve dinner. I used the same meat sauce for the quesadilla I also made, the recipe for which will be detailed after this one.

Ingredients: (Pricing)
1.5 kg pasta (Php 44.75 / 500g Balducci brand)
½ kg ground lean beef (Php 120 / 500g, Nepa Q-mart)
¼ kg ground lean pork (Php 40 / 250g, Nepa Q-mart)
1 kg spaghetti sauce (Php 64.75 Clara Ole brand)
4 native tomatoes, chopped (Php 47 / 6-7 pcs, approx)
3 peppers, chopped (Php 27, approx)
1 can mushrooms (Php 23.75 / 400g can Tai Hing brand)
grated cheese (Php 94.50 / 200g parmesan Kraft brand, or Php 130++ / 500g processed cheese Che Vital brand, approx)
4 tbsp minced garlic (from pantry)
2 tbsp minced onion (from pantry)
2 tbsp fresh basil, torn up (from pantry, Php 37.75 / 100g approx)
2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped (from pantry (Php 23.75 / 100g, approx)
Italian seasoning, s&p (from pantry, Php 38.25 / 13g bottle McCormick brand)

1 Saute 2 tbsp garlic and onions. Add meats. Cook until juices from the meat have evaporated and the meat has turned brown. Set aside cooked meat.
2 Saute the rest of the garlic. Add the tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper.
3 Add the mushrooms and peppers. Saute for a few minutes.
4 Add the meat. Saute for a few minutes.
5 Add the spaghetti sauce, basil, parsley, and Italian seasoning. Stir and let simmer for a few minutes. Add s&p, to taste.
6 Add cooked pasta. Toss.
7 Top with grated cheese. Enjoy.

Quesadilla y Quesadilla

I made 2 kinds of quesadilla for last night’s dinner, a ham and cheese quesadilla and a meat quesadilla using the same meat sauce I used for the pasta.

Ingredients: (Pricing)
4 pcs large tortillas (Php 89.50 / 6 pcs Village Gourmet brand)
8-10 medium thick slices of ham (Php 564 / 700g Adelina brand, approx)
1 pack tomato cream sauce (Php 25 / 250g Del Monte brand)
4 tbsp meat sauce
grated cheese (from pantry, Php 130++ / 500g Che Vital brand, approx)
1 tbsp fresh basil, torn up (from pantry, Php 37.75 / 100g, approx)

To make the ham and cheese quesadilla:
1 Place one large tortilla on a big plate. Put 3 big dollops of tomato cream sauce and spread.
2 Arrange ham slices to cover the whole tortilla up to 1 inch from the edge.
3 Top with grated cheese.
4 Take another tortilla and smear with tomato cream sauce.
5 Cover the tortilla with toppings to make a tortilla sandwich.
6 Heat in turbo broiler for 10 minutes at 200 C.
7 Cut into 6-8 pieces.
8 Serve and enjoy.

To make the meat quesadilla:
1 Place one large tortilla on a big plate. Put 3 big dollops of meat sauce and spread all over the tortilla.
2 Top with basil and grated cheese.
3 Take another tortilla and smear with tomato cream sauce.
4 Cover the tortilla with toppings to make a tortilla sandwich.
5 Heat in turbo broiler for 10 minutes at 200 C.
6 Cut into 6-8 pieces.
7 Serve and enjoy.