Category Archives: Food

Growing Tamarind From Seeds

Trial And Error

I love eating Sweet Tamarind and spicy tamarind candy so much so that I forgot it has a laxative property.  Tamarind juice is also used in many beverages and cooking.  You cannot make real Pad Thai or Massaman curry without tamarind juice.  Young leaves and flowers are also good in cooking.  The juice is also good as a non-toxic polisher for brass and silver.  Wood is also good used as a cutting board.  The plant can be trained as a beautiful Bonzai.  As much as I want to grow it as a tree because of the benefits it provides, I cannot grow it in our garden in this climate.  So, I settled for growing it in a pot like the other tropical plants I have – for the beauty of it.

When I mentioned to my friends and colleagues that I attempted to grow tamarind (Tamarindus indica) from seed.  They asked either …why? or questioned whether I know that tamarind is a very large tree.  Yes, I know tamarind is a long lived, large tree that can grow over 50 feet tall.  Why would I want to grow it then?  It’s because I want to know I can grow it from seed in a cold climate.  I love its beautiful leaves and it can be made it into a Bonsai.  If they grow well, I can eat their young leaves, flowers and fruit.  Fruit is less likely, actually, due to a very short high temperature season and resulting lack of sunlight in this climate, USDA Zone 5-6.

I kept seeds of Sweet Tamarind after having eaten the yummy flesh.  Yes, there is a type of tamarind fruit that turns sweet when ripened.  I put them in warm water and let them soaked over night before I put them in a growing medium.  I put the tray on top of a heat mat that was set to 75°F.   Looking back at my 2015 garden record, I put the seeds in on March 31 and they sprouted on April 11. I was surprised to see them germinate in two weeks.

Tamarind seedling sprout up within two weeks
Tamarind seedling sprouted within two weeks
A week old, new leaves started to unfurl
A week old, new leaves starting to unfurl

Once they grew around 3 inches tall and produced a pair of true leaves, I transferred them to larger pots.  They seemed to grow fast when they were very young but after a year the growing rate seems to slow down.  I’m not really sure if it’s normal for tamarind or it’s because they have to spend 6 months in a cool basement, under artificial sunlight.  Will they grow faster if they sit on a heat mat in winter?  I don’t know but I don’t have the space to put them on a heat mat as an experiment.

Transferred from a seed-starter to a larger pot after the leaves were fully unfurled.
Transferred from a seed-starter to a larger pot after the leaves were fully unfurled.
The four survivors enjoyed late summer outside last year
The four survivors enjoyed late summer outside last year

Out of eight seedlings that sprouted in 2015 only four survived the first year.  I think I may have watered them too much.  Tamarind does better in semi dryness.  In their natural habitat, they survive drought and do fine with less than fertile soil.

The survivors are now almost two years old and thriving in the basement at the moment.  They are around a foot tall but branching out with a lot of beautiful leaves.  I haven’t decided if I want to keep them at a Bonsai height or let them grow to four feet tall (the height that can easily be transported in and out of the basement).

Reside in the basement with other tropical friends in winter. In a couple of moths they can enjoy warm weather and real sunlight again
Relaxing in the basement with other tropical friends in winter. In a couple of months they can enjoy warm weather and real sunlight again.

I’ve learned that watering tamarind too much will kill it, so each one of them will stay slightly on the dry side.  I have not encountered any pests or diseases yet.  As far as I know they are fairly pest-free in their natural habitat.

I look forward to seeing them flower, maybe five to six years from now.  They may not flower at all, but like our Kaffir limes, the oldest of which is around 20 years old, thrive but never flower.  By then, any survivor should be something of real beauty.

Spring Breakfast

Spring Salad & Smoked Salmon

It wasn’t that cold this morning, the sun was bright and the birds were singing up a storm. It was a great time to have breakfast outside for a change. After surveying the garden to see what damage the deer had done last night, I picked our first salad of the season ( in the cold frame). The Arugula and red-leaf lettuce that I sowed last autumn are at their peak. I also thinned the seedlings I sowed a few weeks ago: Pac Choi, Mizuna and Radish and used them all in the salad as well. Nothing wasted.

And, here is this morning’s breakfast (adapted from Le Pain Quotidien Bakery breakfast choice)

Spring salad, smoked salmon and avocado
Spring salad, smoked salmon and avocado


  • Arugula, Red-leaf lettuce, seedlings of Pac Choi, Radish, Mizuna
  • Organic Irish smoked salmon (very mild, less salty)
  • Half avocado
  • Quarter lemon or lime
  • Fresh ground pepper

Bon Appétit!




Chicken Soup With Spices

Fighting a Cold With Chicken Soup

I’ve heard so many times that eating chicken soup when you have a cold helps you get over it faster.  This chicken soup advice is apparently common knowledge, not just here in the U.S.  I’m not sure if it is the chicken or what people put in the soup that helps to get rid of the cold.

I’ve made variety of chicken soups over the years, but the one that works best for me is my family’s recipe.  Psychological effect, maybe?  I usually make it in a large batch then divide it into small portions and keep them in the refrigerator.   I can make a healthy meal really fast from the small portions.  It takes the same amount as it does to boil water.

Sitting at home with alternating running or stuffy nose, plus sore throat and sneezing, I just had it.  I had hoped my cold would go away by resting, keeping myself warm and drinking a lot of orange juice.  But, it’s doggedly hanging on.  So I decided to make a batch of chicken soup.

Chicken Soup With Spice; The Ingredients:

  • Chicken parts, skin and bone attached.  I prefer drumsticks and thighs.  Bone, skin and dark meat will make the soup sweeter since I don’t use chicken stock for this soup.
  • A couple sticks of Cinnamon
  • One fresh garlic head, crushed and cut to small pieces.
  • Black peppercorn
  • A couple of Star Anise
  • Light soy sauce
  • Dark sweet soy sauce
  • Oyster sauce
  • Cooked rice or noodles, optional but the soup tastes better with it.
  • Vegetables of your choice
  • Fresh lime
  • Chili pepper powder
Clockwise from top: cinnamon sticks, fresh garlic, star anise, black peppercorn
Clockwise from top: cinnamon sticks, fresh garlic, star anise, black peppercorn

How to cook:

  • Clean the chicken parts and poke some holes in it with a fork or the tip of a knife.  The chicken will absorb the ingredients better and cook faster.
  • Rub the chicken with dark soy sauce and let sit while you bring water to a boil and prepare other stuff.
  • Put all the spices in the spice bag (that little cotton bag with drawstring) or wrap them up with a couple layers of cheesecloth, tie tightly.  If you prefer to have the spices float around in the pot and take them out later that’s fine too.  Chewing on a piece of cinnamon or star anise is not fun, ergo, the spice bag.
  • Once the water is boiling, put the chicken and spices in.  Bring it back to a boil.
  • Once it is boiling again, add dark soy sauce (this gives a lightly sweet taste and darkens the soup too), oyster sauce (also imparts a lightly sweet taste and darkens the soup slightly) and add some light soy sauce.
  • Skim the foam off.  Take some floating fat out, if you like.  The fat is easier to take out when it’s cold.  I usually scrape the top layer of fat off when I take the soup out of the refrigerator.
  • Simmer for a while.  My timing is when the meat easily comes off the bone.


  • Make a large batch at one time to save a lot of time.  After it cools, split into smaller containers for refrigeration.
  • Refrigerate just broth and chicken.  Hold off on your veggies until you’re ready to heat and serve.
  • Taste the liquid after you add the soy sauce.  Make it on the stronger side because you will be adding vegetables and rice or noodles later which will thin the taste out a little.
  • Add leafy vegetables like Bok choi, Swiss chard, watercress, spinach, broccoli, some scallions, celery and bean sprouts.
  • At the end, after you have added everything in and brought the soup to a boil again, briefly.
  • When you have the soup in the serving bowls, then squeeze some fresh lime juice in and sprinkle chili pepper powder on it.  Fried minced garlic sprinkled on top is optional.

And Enjoy…a hot, spicy, medicinal soup.  You may have a runny nose (reaction to the chili pepper) and sweating (from the heat and spice (all spice used in this soup has a warming potential) but you’ll feel better after a couple of doses.  Fresh lime juice is a great source of vitamin C too.

Chicken soup sprinkled with chili pepper and fried minced garlic. I used baby bok choi, Napa cabbage and scallion in this one. My lovely neighbor provided us with the B&B-French spiced liqueur & fine cognac. She said it's good for the cold too.
Chicken soup sprinkled with chili pepper and fried minced garlic. I used rice, baby bok choi, Napa cabbage and scallion in this one. My lovely neighbor provided us with the B&B-French spiced liqueur & fine cognac. She insists it’s good for what ails you too.

Broiled Red Snapper

Gave In To The Craving

Vegetables and seafood are our staples, providing that I have time to cook.  As for the fish, we seem to end up with salmon, swordfish or tilapia.  I’ve had so much salmon that if I ever fall into a rapid river I can easily swim upstream.  I have no complaint about shrimp or squid either, love them and can eat them by a pound.

I also love red snapper, but it has to be a whole red snapper.  The local supermarket nearby has a wide selection of very fresh seafood.  In the last couple of weeks they have had whole Red snapper available, but I haven’t had the time to cook.  So, I just stared longingly and passed.  This past weekend was another story.  Both of us were home, so we got Red snapper and it was worth the preparation time.

Broiled Red Snapper

Ingredients: (As I mentioned in the previous cooking blogs, I cannot give the exact quantity for the ingredients.  I learned to cook at home and we never measure the ingredients; we simply guess.  We know what we like and you know what you like, so…)

  • One whole Red snapper, scaled, tail and fins off.  The whole one is better because the head and bones make it taste sweeter.  But if you like filleted, use it.
  • Fresh garlic, minced
  • Fresh ginger, minced
  • Fresh ground black pepper
  • Pickled plum with some juice.  You can find this in any Asian market.  You can also use fresh lime juice.
  • Light soy sauce
  • Celery. The Asian type is better, more leaves and a slightly pungent taste.
  • Fresh Shitake mushroom, thin sliced
  • Vegetables of your choice.  I like a mixed of Napa cabbage, Scallion and Swiss chard.

    Red snapper on a vegetable bed after being rubbed with spice
    Red snapper on a vegetable bed after being rubbed with spice

How to cook:

  • Mix fresh minced garlic, ginger, ground black pepper, lime juice or pickle plum, and light soy sauce together.  The mix should be enough for rubbing the fish, stuffing the fish belly and to mix with water for broiling.
  • Clean the fish, cut two or three diagonal cuts on each side of the fish (see photo above).
  • Rub mixed herbs and spices on both sides and make sure to put some in the diagonal cuts.
  • Mix the spice left over from rubbing with Shitake mushroom and stuff some of the mix in the fish belly
  • Clean and cut vegetables.  Cut the spines and stems thinner than the leaves.  Use the hard part like stems and spines at the bottom of the pan.  Lay the rubbed fish on top.  Put in some of the mixed water and spices, just enough to cover the vegetables.  Then turn on the heat.
  • Once the fish is cooked.  Take the fish and vegetables out.  How to check whether the fish is cooked or not: I stick a toothpick in the fish.  If it easily goes in and out, it’s cooked.  If it still feels sticky, it’s still not cooked well enough.  Remember that the fish will continue to cook after you take it off the heat.
  • Put the rest of the vegetables in the juice in the cooking pan, cover, and let it cook for a few seconds.  Stir a couple of times.
  • Once the vegetables are wilted, take them out and arrange them around the fish.  Vegetables that are to well cooked will have less nutrients in them.

Serve with fresh cooked rice.

We had it with a cold Harpoon 100 Barrel Series ‘Ginger Wheat’ beer.  A perfect fit.

After being cooked and ready to be devoured
After being cooked and ready to be devoured

Seafood Rice Soup

Great Breakfast

I make breakfast most mornings when I don’t have to go to work.  I just need a break from the grab and go type of breakfast like bagel, muffin or croissant and coffee.   We’re both home today so it’s a good day to have breakfast in the garden while enjoying bird songs and flowers.  Coffee was already made.  What should I make for breakfast then?  After surveying the refrigerator and vegetable garden, I came up with Seafood Rice Soup.  And, it’s very easy to make.


  • Jasmine Rice. We have left over rice from a few days ago in the fridge.  This old rice makes it easier to cook the soup because I don’t have to take time boiling rice.
  • Vegetable or chicken soup base.
  • Your preferred seafood, fish (Salmon or Red Snapper are good for this), shrimp or squid.  We happened to have fresh squid and shrimp that need to be used.
  • Vegetables like Spinach, Swiss chard, Celery, Bok Choi, and Scallion (in small quantity).  I cut a variety of Swiss Chard, Chinese celery and pulled one Scallion from the garden.
  • White pepper powder.
  • Garlic powder.
  • Soy sauce
  • Fried garlic (optional)

How to cook: The whole process should take less than half an hour.

  • If you have left over rice, start cleaning your seafood.  If not, cook Jasmine rice in a pot with a lot of water and soup base.  Once the water starts to boil, turn the heat down.  Let the rice cook slowly while you clean the seafood and vegetables.
  • Put prepared seafood in a bowl then sprinkle white pepper, garlic powder and soy sauce in.  Mix them well with seafood and set it aside for now.
  • Check on the slowly cooking rice to see if the grains have started to puff up.  It’s a matter of timing at this point.  You don’t want the rice getting too mushy by over-cooking it.
  • If you are using left over rice, start boiling water with the soup base in it before you clean the vegetables to save some time.  Once the water starts to boil, put the rice in and break the clumps of rice stuck together.
  • Clean the vegetables and cut them into pieces.  Separate the stems from the leaves.
  • When you’re done with the vegetables, turn the heat up under the rice.  Add the marinated seafood to it once the soup is boiling. Add the cut stems in as well.
  • Add the leafy part of the vegetables when the liquid starts to bubble.  Stir well.
  • When the liquid bubbles up again, taste the soup.  Add more soy sauce to taste.
  • Sprinkle fried garlic on top of the soup after you put it in the bowl.  This is optional but really does add a good taste.

Enjoy your breakfast…or lunch.

Fresh picked Swiss Chard, Chinese Celery and Scallion are from the garden
Squid (cut into pieces) and shrimp (shelled and de-vained).
End product- a bowl of healthy seafood rice soup.

Little tips:

  • Use all part of the leaves.  Cut a stem into smaller chunks than the leaf, it’s easier and takes less time to cook.  Put stems in first so they cook a couple of seconds longer than the leaves.  That will help to soften them up.
  • Don’t blanch the veggies and dump the liquid.  The nutrients will be gone with the liquid if you throw it away.
  • Don’t cook squid or shrimp too long or they turn rubbery.
  • Don’t stir the fish too much.  Salmon and Red Snapper will fall apart easily.
  • Keep the home made soup base, either vegetable or chicken, in the fridge.  It’s healthier to make your own.  When you need food to fill your hunger fast, you can always add vegetables, tofu, rice or pasta to it.  It will take as much time to make as to boil water.  Crush black pepper into it if you like too.

How Many Ways to Cook a Salmon

Seared Glazed Wasabi & Mustard Salmon

Fish is good for your health, that what I’ve been told.  I really don’t care that fish is good for my health or not, I love eating them anyway.  I grew up eating a lot of fish and seafood.  I had a miserable two years of my life when I couldn’t eat shrimp.  I didn’t know why I had allergic reaction to ship at that time.  Maybe I ate too many of them, both cooked and raw and my body just had enough of it.  I forced myself to eat it after a while, through all the throwing up and itchiness.  I’m happy again that I don’t miss a good thing in life.

Back to fish, you can do a lot of things with salmon: grill, broil, fried, steam, smoke, make curry or eat it raw.  You can cook salmon with various ingredients within one method of cooking.  So, how many ways you can cook a piece of salmon again?  Countless!

Last weekend we, or I in this matter, made seared Wasabe & mustard salmon with garden salad.  It was easy to make and we felt healthy already.

Seared salmon and garden salad

Seared Wasabe & Mustard Salmon


  • Good piece of salmon. The belly part is the best, very rich and fatening. (Salmon fat is good for you, high in Omega3)
  • Mixed Wasabe & mustard.  I used Stonewall Kitchen.  No, I don’t have any stock in this company.  They just make good condiments and spread.
  • Lemon or lime juice
  • Olive oil
  • Mixed salad green that you like.  We just picked what ever we had in the garden at the time.  Last weekend our salad was a combination of arugula, French breakfast radish, Belle radish, Metzuma, Pak choi and a little cheat on supermarket tomato and bell pepper.

Here is how to make it:

  • Mixed the Wasabe & mustard with lemon or lime juice to your preference.  My trick is whenever I use a new ingredient I would taste it by itself first.  I’ll know exactly how much I should add the other ingredients because I know how salty, sweet, sour it is.  Then I know how much to add the other stuff.
  • Rub the mixture on the salmon.  Put the rubbed salmon in the bowl and refrigerate it for a couple of hours.
  • Once you’re ready to cook, take the salmon out from the fridge 10 minutes before
  • Wet the grilling pan with olive oil.
  • Drop the salmon on the pan, skin side first.
  • Turn it after 2 minutes.
  • Take the salon out after a couple of minutes.  We like the fish a little raw inside.  For well-done fish you may have to cook longer.  Just remember, fish will continue cook after you take it off the heat.

Bon Apetite!


First Salad of the Season

That magic moment we wait for every spring has finally arrived, consuming the first salad of the season from our garden.  Don’t get me wrong, we eat salad all the time but no supermarket salad can equal five minutes of picking fresh greens from our backyard.

Garlic, pak choi and a lot of arugula.

Organically grown, without pesticide, crispy, crunchy greens give us great satisfaction.  We aren’t just satisfying our palate but our minds as well; a sense of accomplishment arises.  When you are able to walk out to your backyard or down to the basement (ginger & kaffir lime leaves) and pick your fresh produce, you can feel a lot closer to the earth.  The food seems to taste better.  You may think I romanticize this, but it’s true for most people.  You feel accomplished because you see the outcome of your work within a short period of time, the product of your labor you actually enjoy eating.  You also gain a sense of independence from mega-supermarket chains that otherwise dictate what you should or shouldn’t eat.

We cheated a bit on our first dish.  I added tomato and bell pepper in it since our tomato and peppers are still little seedlings.  It was a great lunch….a fulfilling one too.

Here is our Shrimp Salad

  • Fresh shrimp, cooked and peeled.
  • Fresh greens (lettuce, arugula, dill, radish..these are what we have now, but you can use any fresh greens you like). 
  • Tomato
  • Pepper
  • Fresh squeezed lime or lemon juice. (Squeeze it yourself, not from the bottle, it tastes better.)
  • Two mint leaves, finely chopped. Too much mint will fight with the dill.
  • A clove of garlic.
  • Chili pepper. (Just to add a spicy taste.  Skip this if you can’t take hot pepper)
  • Soy sauce
Voila; the end product

Clean all the vegetables, spin dry, toss.  Keep a couple of dill leaves for decoration. Crush garlic and chili pepper in a mortar then transfer the mix to a small bowl (big enough to accommodate the shrimp), add soy sauce and lime juice.  Adjust the ingredients to taste.  Add cooked shrimp to the sauce, mix them well.  Add chopped mint and toss.  

Put salad on the plate, top with the shrimp you just mixed.  Decorate with dill.  If you have any liquid left in the bowl, pour it over the salad.  Done!

Great with chilled chardonnay or beer.  Bon Appetite!

Cooking Bitter Melon

Many Roads To Delicious

Bitter Melon is not an easy vegetable to eat if you don’t love bitter taste.  But it’s still consumed widely in many countries.  Some folks have figured out how to reduce the bitterness.  One trick I know is to soak it in salt water if you’re just going to blanch it and use it as a condiment with a dipping sauce.  I promise I’ll share the recipes with you when I get them.  Here, after asking, nudging and nagging, I finally got them.  But there’s one problem; there is no portion measurement. These are people who learned to cook from their grandmothers and mothers when the measurement units are a dash here, a handful there.  So, you are on your own.  Besides, you know your palate anyway.

It doesn’t matter which country they came from, stir-fry with eggs is the most common and easiest way to deal with Bitter Melon.  Here’s how it’s done:

Stir-fried Bitter Melon:

  • Bitter Melon. Halved, scoop the seeds out, then slice very thin.  How many melons?  Well, see above, you know how much you want to eat or how many people you are feeding.
  • Fresh Garlic. Smash to remove the peel, then finely chop.
  • Eggs. Here’s the trick: if you like stir-fried Bitter Melon with egg, use less eggs.  If you like omelette with Bitter Melon, use more eggs.
  • Cooking oil.  I prefer olive oil.  It’s better for your health.  But any type of cooking oil will do, even the heart clogging lard.
  • Light soy sauce.  Any salty sauce with no flavor enhancement will do, don’t add salt though.

If you already know how to stir fry, skip this part.  For those who don’t, continue reading.  Heat the oil then put chopped garlic in and cook until it turns light brown.  Add sliced melon, stir a few times then add the soy sauce.  If you are not sure of proportions, add a little bit at a time and taste it.  Once the melon is cooked, you’ll know when it gets that softer look, add eggs.  Continue cooking until it’s the consistency you like.  I like the eggs a little brown, my brother likes it lightly cooked. That’s it.

Halved and thin sliced

*Ensaladang Ampalaya (Bitter Melon Salad):

*(for you linguists, it’s Tagalog)

After begging Maria a few times, finally she gave me the recipe for Filipino style bitter melon salad .  She also brought me her homemade Ensaladang to try.  I wasn’t sure if it was her only intension or if she also wanted to make sure that I knew what the end product was supposed to look like since I have always complained that I don’t like cookbooks bereft of photographs. Here is the salad:

  • Bitter Melon. Halved, scoop the seeds out, then slice thin.
  • Salt. Sprinkle a little bit on the sliced melon.  Mix and mash to remove excess liquid.  I prefer to use my hand; it’s easier to squeeze the juice out than using a spoon.
  • Onion. White or red onion coarse chopped or thin sliced, which ever way you prefer.  Add it in with the bitter melon after removing the excess juice.
  • Tomato. (Optional) Cut to small cubes then add.
  • Vinegar. (Apple Cider vinegar preferable) Add in to taste.

Let the mixture sits for a few minutes to absorb the vinegar.  Then dig in.  I made this dish right after I got the recipe and love it.  I got a little bit adventurous and added fresh crushed black pepper… wow!  But, that’s only from the spice addict point of view.

Bitter Melon Soup:

Bitter melon soup is always good with rice.  It helps wash down the other food and clean your palate.  As far as I know you can make Bitter melon soup two ways, either stuff the melon with meat and clear noodles or just cook pieces of melon with the meat.  What you need are:

  • Bitter melon. The Chinese type.  If you like to stuff it, you just cut the melon in two inch sections, length wise, then scoop the seed out.  So it would look like a little green pipe.  If you don’t want to waste time stuffing it, you just half it, scoop the seed out and cut it into small section, around an inch long.
  • Ground meat of your choice. It’s better with turkey, chicken or pork.
  • Clear noodle. The one that’s made from mung bean, little green beans that you make bean sprouts with.  Soak it until it softens, then cut to very short sections.
  • Mushroom of your choice. I prefer Shitake or Crimini; they smell better when cooked.  Just a little bit. Chop them up.
  • Light soy sauce
  • Garlic powder
  • Black or white pepper powder.

Mix ground meat, noodle, mushroom, soy sauce, garlic powder and pepper powder together and let it marinate for a while (half hour will do).  Then stuff the mixture into the hollow melon, for those who prefer stuffed.  Make the mixture into small balls, for the ones that do not want to stuff the melon.  Then cook it.  You may need to add a little bit of soy sauce in the soup if it is not salty enough. Done.