Crispy Sweet & Sour Tofu

Crispy Sweet & Sour Tofu

Hello Everyone and Happy Hump Day! How is it that we’re already halfway into the first month of the year? I know I’ve said this in probably 80% of my posts from last year, and I will most definitely say it again… Time sure does fly by so quickly!

Tofu, or also known as bean curd, is made by curdling fresh soy milk, pressing it into a solid block, and then cooling it – the same traditional way in which dairy cheese is made. It is a good source of plant-based protein and contains all nine essential amino acids. It is also a valuable plant source of iron, calcium, and minerals such as manganese and phosphorus. In addition to this, it also contains magnesium, copper, zinc, and vitamin B1.

Sadly, tofu sometimes get a bad reputation from omnivores, and it’s probably because they are eating tofu that wasn’t cooked or seasoned well in the first place! Tofu is a popular staple ingredient in Thai and Chinese cuisines where it can be cooked in different ways to change its texture from smooth and soft, to crisp and crunchy.

Crispy Sweet & Sour Tofu

Given its neutral taste and range of consistency, tofu has an amazing ability to work with almost all types of flavours and foods. Extra firm tofu is best for baking, grilling, and stir-fries. On the other hand, soft tofu is suitable for sauces, desserts, shakes, and salad dressings. The possibilities are endless and of course, it’s all down to you and your creativity to see where your adventures and experiments take you with tofu!

Tonight I’ll be sharing a super delicious vegetarian dish that’s super simple and quick to put together. You can also easily make this dish vegan by substituting the wild honey for white granulated sugar or maple syrup in the irresistible sweet and sour sauce that will coat the crispy tofu. The trick to getting it nice and crispy? Get rid of the excess moisture and fry it up real nice! No one likes soggy tofu! As always, do head on over to Hot For Food by Lauren Toyota for the original recipe where I drew my inspiration from.

Crispy Sweet & Sour Tofu Ingredients

PREP TIME 20 MINS | COOKING TIME 20 MINS | SERVES 4

INGREDIENTS

For the sweet and sour sauce

  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/3 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
  • 1/4 cup wild honey*
  • 2 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 tsp cornstarch, mixed with 2 tsp water
  • 2 tsp vegetable oil
  • 1/2 tsp freshly grated ginger
  • 1/2 tsp chilli flakes/ground, or fresh chilli
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

For the tofu batter

  • 1 block of medium-firm tofu
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 cup cold soda water
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch
  • 2 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp toasted sesame seeds
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 cups vegetable oil, for frying
  • Thinly sliced green onions, to garnish
  • Toasted sesame seeds, to garnish

* Substitute wild honey for white granulated sugar or maple syrup for a vegan option.

METHOD

  1. Preparing the Tofu: If using tofu from a package, drain and cut into bite-sized cubes. Allow the cubes to sit on a clean tea towel or paper towel to get rid of any excess water. Set aside and in the meantime, prepare the sauce.
  2. Sweet & Sour Sauce: Mix the cornstarch and water in a small bowl. Set aside. Whisk all the sauce ingredients together (except for the garlic, ginger, and chilli), in a small mixing bowl as set aside.
  3. In a small saucepan, heat the vegetable oil over medium-low. Add the minced garlic, grated ginger, and chilli. Sauté for about 30 seconds, until golden and fragrant, being careful not to burn the garlic and ginger.
  4. Add the sauce mixture to the saucepan and whisk together until just bubbling. Once bubbling, whisk in the cornstarch and water mixture to the sauce. Continue to whisk frequently for 10 to 12 minutes until the sauce has thickened and reduced. Once done, remove from the heat and set aside while preparing the crispy tofu.
  5. Crispy Tofu: In a heavy-bottomed pot, heat the 3 cups of vegetable oil to about 180C to 185C (or 355F to 365F).
  6. Prepare the batter by whisking the flour, cornstarch, sea salt, garlic powder, sesame seeds, and black pepper in a large mixing bowl. Do not add the cold soda water until your frying oil is ready. When you’re ready to fry, stir in the cold soda water to the flour mixture and mix well. If the mixture is too thin, add a little bit more flour and combine. The batter should have a smooth and slightly thick consistency – like pancake batter. You want it to stick and coat the cubes of tofu.
  7. Place the tofu cubes in the batter and toss to coat evenly. Delicately drop each cube one at a time into the frying oil. Fry in batches of 5 to 6 pieces (more or less depending on the size of your pot), just be careful to not overcrowd the pot. Fry for 2 to 2.5 minutes, until golden. If some stick together, your can gently separate them in the frying oil using a slotted fryer spoon. Once done, let them sit on a paper towel to absorb the excess oil. Continue this process with the remaining tofu cubes.
  8. Serve: Heat up the sauce again if needed before serving. In 2 to 3 batches, you can evenly coat the crispy tofu with the sauce by tossing them together in a large bowl. Plate up, drizzle with a touch of sesame oil, and garnish with spring onion.
  9. Serve and enjoy immediately over steamed rice or any vegetables of your choice!

Crispy Sweet & Sour Tofu

Notes:
If you’d rather bake the tofu instead of frying for a healthier alternative, toss the cubes in about 2 tablespoons of cornstarch in a large bowl. Lay them out evenly on a large parchment-lined baking sheet and bake in a preheated oven (425F, 220C or gas mark 7), for 30 to 40 minutes, until crispy and golden brown. Finish by coating in warm sweet and sour sauce right before serving.

Crispy Sweet & Sour Tofu

BON APPÉTIT

– Ally xx

myTaste.com

Potato & Caramelised Leek Soup with Crispy Bacon

Potato & Caramelised Leek Soup with Crispy Bacon

Hello Everyone! It’s the beginning of Winter Warmer Month on the blog! For the next month of July I will be sharing my favourite soup recipes, as well as learning how to make other various soups that I don’t already have up my sleeve. These soups are sure to keep you warm on a mid-winter’s night while you’ve got a duvet wrapped around you as you binge watch all your favourite movies and/or tv shows; I know I’ll be doing that most nights!

Potato & Caramelised Leek Soup with Crispy Bacon

Today’s recipe is one that I’ve made many times before in the past when I started getting into cooking, before I started my blog. Before moving to Australia, I’ve never seen a leek before, not including the one that Farfetch’d carries around and whacks other pokémon with. I don’t think Brunei sells them? Or maybe they do but call them a different name or something. I know one grocery store that sells them now, and at a whopping $15.99/kg. Leeks can be pretty hefty so imagine the price! Here at Coles they sell it at $2.48 or something around that price range per piece, and of course I always choose the bigger piece.

The only possible thing that I dislike about this recipe is that it made me cry and left my eyes with a stinging sensation – those darn leeks and onions! Other than that, this is quite possibly one of my favourite soup recipes alongside roast pumpkin soup. Leeks are an excellent source of vitamin K, and are a very good source of manganese, vitamin B6, copper, iron, folate, and vitamin C. It has quite a number of health benefits, but a majority of people don’t know how to cook leeks, or what to pair them with. I am probably one of them as I only know how to use leeks in this recipes, and a pasta recipe with chorizo sausages. Maybe I’ll have a week where I just cook and experiment with the use of leeks in various dishes!

Potato & Caramelised Leek Soup with Crispy Bacon Ingredients

PREP TIME 15 MINS | COOKING TIME 1 HOUR | SERVES 3-5

INGREDIENTS

  • 3 large yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 300ml thickened cream
  • 100g streaky bacon, cut into bits
  • 2 cups chicken (or pork)* stock
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 large brown onion, diced
  • 1 leek, washed thoroughly** and thinly sliced
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • Ground salt and pepper to taste

*Remember my last post on roast pork belly crackling? Well, I had about 2 cups of rich pork broth that I didn’t want to throw away, so I reserved it and decided to use it for this recipe instead of using store bought stock or the powdered/bouillon version of it; made my soup super (or should I say, souper) tasty indeed! Okay I’ll stop there.

**Tips for cleaning leeks: Cut off the green tops of the leeks, removing any outer tough leaves. Cut off the root and cut the leeks in half lengthwise. Fan out the leeks and rinse well under running water, leaving them intact. Make to to thoroughly wash out any dirt/soil that can be found in the insides of the leek.

METHOD

  1. Heat a large pot over medium-high. Add in the bacon bits and fry until crispy. Remove from the pot and set aside, leaving the bacon fat/oils in the pot.
  2. Add the garlic in and sauté until golden brown before adding the onions in and cooking them until soft. Add the leeks and a little bit of water. Mix it around leave it to cook for about 5 minutes or until the leeks have softened. Add the brown sugar to the leeks and give it a good mix. Cover the pot and let the leeks cook and caramelise for a further 10 minutes.
  3. Throw in the potatoes and add the pork stock to the vegetables. Season the soup with a bit of salt and pepper and leave it to boil for about half an hour or until potatoes are soft. Once done, remove from the heat and let it sit too cool down slightly for about 10 minutes.
  4. Using a stick blender, blend the vegetables together with the liquid in the cooking pot until smooth. Add in the cream and give it a good mix.
  5. Divide the soup equally into serving bowls (3 large bowls, or 4-5 small bowls), and top each with a bit of crispy bacon, spring onion, and drizzle with a bit of olive oil. Serve immediately with some toasted bread.

Potato & Caramelised Leek Soup with Crispy Bacon

BON APPÉTIT

– Ally xx

myTaste.com

Mesa Filipino Moderne - FRESH CATCH: Tilapia

Mesa Filipino Moderne

Hello Everyone and welcome back to an all new Review Sunday! I’ve got three more places from the Philippines that I want to touch on before I start reviewing a couple of places here in Brunei. I’ve actually visited quite a number of places in the Philippines, but I feel like I haven’t had the full dining experience yet in terms of what their menu has to offer. Then there are some other places that I was thinking of writing about, but when I look back at their food, it was all too similar and nothing special really.

Anyway, what I realised when dining out in the Philippines, food is always the same no matter where I go. For example, dishes like sisig, crispy pata, kare-kare, sinigang, laing, buko pandan, leche flan, and many other classic and famous Filipino dishes, though I imagine cooked slightly different to separate themselves from others, all taste quite similar no matter where we have it. In tagalog, I would normally say “nakakasawa”, if you eat the same food over and over you will say or have that feeling nakakasawa, but maybe its because I’ve been eating in the wrong places.

Mesa caught my eye as I was roaming around SM North Edsa with my sisters while my Mom was somewhere along Quezon Avenue doing medical checkups. We were looking for new places to eat, and when a saw ‘new’ I just mean nothing like Barrio Fiesta or Gerry’s Grill – not places that we have been to over and over again every time we visit the Philippines. I had never heard or encountered Mesa in my pervious trips, and what intrigued me was the modernity and interpretation of classic traditional Filipino dishes. I was definitely intrigued when I saw Ostrich on their menu even though I didn’t have any.

Mesa Filipino Moderne - SISIG: Sisig in a pouch
SISIG: Sisig in a pouch
Savoury pork sisig wrapped in a pouch (₱190.00)

As mentioned probably in a previous review, sisig is a dish that I never fail to have whenever I visit the Philippines. I was attracted to this dish because I’ve never had sisig this way before. It was a perfect way to start out our lunch at Mesa; the pouches had a very nice golden brown finish to them, and it gave each bite a nice crunch to the sisig filling inside. It was paired nicely with a side of spicy vinegar as well.

Mesa Filipino Moderne - SOUP: Sinigang na baboy in guava and pineapple
SOUP: Sinigang na baboy in guava and pineapple
Pork simmered in broth with guava and fresh pineapple; serves 4-5 (₱290.00)

What caught my eye with this dish as I was browsing the menu was the guava and pineapple part. I’ve never had sinigang with these two fruits before so I was indeed very intrigued to know how the strong flavours would blend together. It actually worked quite well to an extent. I say ‘extent’ because there was one time I had a whole heap of guava flavour in my spoon of soup and the taste overkilled. Nevertheless, an enjoyable dish.

Mesa Filipino Moderne - FRESH CATCH: Hito
FRESH CATCH: Hito
Crispy boneless with mangga salad (₱340.00)

The only thing that concerned me about this dish was where’s the mango salad? If you’re going to make mention “with” mango salad, I expect it to be of reasonable portioning as a side dish and not just “topped” over the fried fish. Slightly disappointing.

Mesa Filipino Moderne - FRESH CATCH: Tilapia
FRESH CATCH: Tilapia
Crispy boneless served with four sauces (₱340.00)

Well, just like the crispy boneless hito, nothing quite special about the four sauces that went with fried fish that in my opinion had not much flavour in the flesh itself. Verging on being overcooked? Quite possibly.

Mesa Filipino Moderne - VEGETABLES: Laing 2 ways
VEGETABLES: Laing 2 ways
Taro leaves, pork, shrimp paste, and coconut cream topped with adobo flakes, served original and crispy (₱170.00)

The taro, or also known as gabi in the Philippines, is low in saturated fat, sodium, and cholesterol, and in contrast, high in dietary fibre, vitamin E, vitamin B6, potassium, and manganese. The leaves, stems, and corms are all consumed and form part of the local cuisine, a dish known as Laing. Laing originated from the Bicol region, and no matter where you have it at, and no matter the way it is cooked, it always ends up looking like a pile of… 🙂 I’ve had my fair share from many eateries, and even home-cooked laing, and it always looks like this. But I assure you that it tastes so much better than it looks. I like how Mesa served this dish two ways – basically one with sauce and the other without. Both tasted pretty good and the adobo flakes on top added that extra flavour and crunch to the dish.

Mesa Filipino Moderne - MEAT: Pinatayong Manok
MEAT: Pinatayong Manok
“Standing” whole chicken carved right at your table (₱415.00)

Quite possibly one of the reasons why I stopped in front of the restaurant and had a look at their menu; I saw a picture of this dish and I immediately knew I wanted to eat that. It was basically a whole roasted chicken that didn’t particularly have any special taste to it in my opinion, but what I enjoyed was the way it was served to us. It was brought to our table “standing” and carved for us at our table. The chicken was cooked well and was very tender.

Mesa Filipino Moderne - MEAT: Pork Binagoongan
MEAT: Pork Binagoongan
Pan fried pork belly sautéed in shrimp paste (₱190.00)

This dish I enjoyed because I love the pairing of a well-cooked pork belly, shrimp paste, and grilled eggplant. This dish did not disappoint at all unlike the others.

Mesa Filipino Moderne - DESSERT: Pandan Macapuno Rumble
DESSERT: Pandan Macapuno Rumble (₱75.00)

I was intrigued to know what modern twist they would put on a classic buko pandan dessert. Nothing special to be honest except the fact that the coconut meat was set with the jelly? That’s all that I could point out that seemed different to the classic ones I’ve had multiple times. Other than that, flavour was good.

Mesa Filipino Moderne - DESSERT: Crispy Leche Flan
DESSERT: Crispy Leche Flan (₱70.00)

This was the dessert that I was most looking forward to only to be disappointed in the end – small, not so crispy rolls of flan that didn’t quite taste like flan in my opinion and more like steamed egg. I was disappointed only because I had a much better first experience with crispy leche flan when I was travelling the city of Lucena just a couple of days before I visited Mesa again.

Mesa Filipino Moderne is definitely a place to visit if you want to experience modern Filipino cooking at an affordable price. I say that it is affordable because the pricing of their dishes are quite reasonable for the portions you get, so definitely a good value for money indeed. But as I have mentioned in another review before, these prices are not very affordable for the average Filipino, so I guess the value for money on a more general scale wouldn’t be so good. The food I would rate no more than a 6 to be honest – at first glance I was very excited to experience modern Filipino cuisine, but after having dined and looked back at the dishes that I’ve had, I can’t say I was left excited to go back for more. The only dish that I really enjoyed was the pork sisig in a pouch. Everything else was mediocre. Service 8 out of 10; it was exceptional nor was it bad, and the ambience is a sure 10 for me.

Now that I look back at all the dishes that I’ve had and my small disappointments with each of the dishes I ordered, I wonder how they were able to achieve the Best Food Retailer award. I may be jumping into conclusions a bit early as I’ve only tried probably an eighth of the dishes they have on offer, but if I am off to a non-promising start with their menu, I can’t be sure on how the rest will unfold if I visited a few more times and trying other dishes. Anyway, my opinion is my opinion; it may be biased, it may be not. You may agree with me, you may not, that is, if you’ve dined at Mesa.

I’m not sure if there are other restaurants that are much better at modern Filipino cuisine, but this is the first step of my journey to finding out how far we can modernise classic dishes. There is one place I have yet to visit, but have been closely following their Instagram page, and it’s called Sarsá Kitchen+Bar. I must say that their Sinigang Fried Chicken looks very enticing. Maybe on my next adventure to the Philippines I’ll be able to drag some family members over to have some eats.

Mesa Filipino Moderne
3/F SM City North EDSA, Main Building
EDSA corner North Avenue
Quezon City, Metro Manila
Philippines

– Ally xx

BR Nina's Itikan & Restaurant - SPECIALITIES: Kalderitik

BR Nina’s Itikan & Restaurant

Hello Everyone and welcome back to an all new Review Sunday! Today’s post is on a restaurant that can be found along the Sta. Clara Bypass Road in Sta. Maria, Bulacan. My cousin first introduced me to this place when we were visiting the Philippines last month. I told her that I wanted to dine at local eateries that are natively special to Bulacan and this is where she took my family and I. If I am not mistaken, itik is quite popular in Bulacan as there are also many balut hatcheries in the area. For those of you who do not know what a balut is, it is basically a developing duck embryo (fertilised duck egg) that is boiled and eaten in the shell.

Anyway, I could not appreciate the atmosphere at the time that we went with my cousin for it was during dinner and although the place was well lit, it felt dark to me. So my mother, my two sisters, and myself decided to come back to this place for lunch and the ambience had a bigger impact on me than it did the first night we dined at BR Nina’s Itikan. I think the fact that we were the only table there as well made a difference for it was less noisy (I mean, excluding the traffic along the bypass) and we had the whole place to ourselves. The place is an outdoor restaurant with a main dining area upon entering, and a few bahay kubos at the back where you could also dine. A bahay cubo is known as the national shelter, native house of the Philippines and is made from using indigenous building materials like bamboo and nipa. Its name is said to have originated from the Spanish word, cubo, which means “cube” because of the bahay kubo‘s rectangular/cubic shape. Nowadays you’ll see many eateries adapting the bahay kubo into small, private eating huts, big enough to seat between 4-8 people.

BR Nina's Itikan & Restaurant - BR NINA’S FIESTA: Crispy Kare-Kare Liempo
BR NINA’S FIESTA: Crispy Kare-Kare Liempo (₱250.00)

When I first had dinner at this place, I was very much intrigued by the ‘crispy’ part of the name of this dish, only because I’ve never had kare-kare before with crispy meat. The sauce, even though for me it felt like it was straying away from a traditional kare-kare, was nice and flavourful. The sauce tasted like it had coconut milk in it and didn’t taste so much like the peanut buttery goodness that I love; it was still creamy though. The vegetables were cooked to perfection, as in it wasn’t overcooked, and though some of the cuts of pork meat was cooked well, some were a bit hard and overdone.

BR Nina's Itikan & Restaurant - SPECIALITIES: Fried Itik
SPECIALITIES: Fried Itik (₱160.00)

The first time we came here we had the fried itik as recommended by my cousin. For me it was just okay, nothing much special to it other than the fact that it’s an itik and that it definitely tastes different than any normal fried chicken. The meat was quite dry and because there was no sauce to go with it either, besides the very basic condiment of soy sauce and calamansi, the overall dish was very dry. If we didn’t have the bulalo soup to pair with it, it would’ve been a very dry meal.

BR Nina's Itikan & Restaurant - SPECIALITIES: Kalderitik
SPECIALITIES: Kalderitik (₱170.00)

Since itik is their speciality here in this restaurant, we decided to order at least more than just one on their specials menu and experience itik cooked in many different ways. The itik was really tender and flavourful. It was so tender that it was fall-off-the-bone perfection. It also had a little bit of spice to it as well. This dish is one that I very much like from their specials, even though it doesn’t look very well presented – but this is pretty much home-style cooking.

BR Nina's Itikan & Restaurant - SPECIALITIES: Adobong Itik
SPECIALITIES: Adobong Itik (₱170.00)

Though it doesn’t look as appetising (let’s face it, pretty much everything you’ll see here doesn’t look appetising), it tastes better than it looks. However, compared to the kalderitik, this dish was quite dry. The sauce came as a side with the dish, but because the itik was deep fried, it was quite dry. Also, I felt that there was a little bit too much garlic on the dish. It did have that adobo flavour to the itik though!

BR Nina's Itikan & Restaurant - SPECIALITIES: Sisig Itik
SPECIALITIES: Sisig Itik (₱170.00)

Sisig is a Filipino dish traditionally made from parts of a pig’s head and liver, seasoned with calamansi and chilli peppers. I love me a good sisig dish. I never fail to have a flavourful sizzling plate of sisig whenever I visit the Philippines. I was drawn to this dish only because I’ve never had itik sisig before, I’ve always and only have ever had pork sisig. This sisg dish is by far my favourite of all sisigs I’ve ever had in the past. The flavour was on point and the addition of fresh chillies on top added that extra kick of heat that the dish, in my opinion, needed.

BR Nina's Itikan & Restaurant - FRIED: Crispy Tawilis with Salted Egg
FRIED: Crispy Tawilis with Salted Egg (₱150.00)

Sardinella tawilis, or known by Filipinos as just tawilis for short, is a small freshwater sardine, reaching up to 15cm and weighing less than 30g. On its own, it doesn’t actually have much flavour to it. But all your really need is the salted egg and tomatoes on the side to go with it and you have a match made it heaven. Even with just a little bit of achara to go with the crispy fried tawilis and you’re pretty much hooked on it. You can eat the fish whole as well, yes, including its head, tail, and bones!


SOUPS: Bulalo (₱220.00)

Besides their specialities, this bulalo soup is by far the tastiest of all bulalo soups I’ve had in the past. The broth is harboured all the flavours from the meat, and what’s good about it also is that the broth doesn’t have a lot of oil in it and isn’t very fatty at all. The meat was very tender and the vegetables still had a bit of crunch to them. It was definitely much better in terms of flavour than the bulalo soup that I cooked myself.

BR Nina’s Itikan have quite a lot to offer on their menu beside their specialities of various itik dishes; many also praise their crispy kare-kares from Facebook comments and reviews that I’ve have seen. Overall, I thought that the food that we’ve had at this place were generally quite good. I haven’t had any major issues with any of the dishes only that the fried itik and the adobong itik itself are quite dry, but other than that, everything else were pretty much on point for me. I love love love their duck sisig, and for that I’d say that their food is a sure 7 out of 10 for me. Ambience 8 out of 10 and service is variable between 7 to 9 out of 10. I say this because there are only two waiters running the floor and serving probably a total of 10 tables. So when the place is packed, it’s quite hard to flag down a waiter when you’re ready to order or wanting to request for more water or tissue for your table – that’s the downside. Otherwise, they’re friendly and always quick on their feet. You’ll see then running around trying to get to every table and fulfilling every customer’s requests. It’s also relatively cheap so therefore a good value for money, where their specialities of itik only costs about AUD$5.00 – a whole duck for just $5.00? Quite impossible ain’t it? That is, if it were sold in Australia.

BR Nina’s Itikan & Restaurant
Bypass Road Sta. Clara
Sta. Maria, Bulacan
Philippines, 3022

– Ally xx