[Recipe] Baked Filipino Torta

By Bianca Garcia

Picture provided by Bianca Garcia.

Picture provided by Bianca Garcia.

I grew up eating torta. I ate it for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, always served with fluffy white rice. Torta was one of my family’s go-to dishes, made with simple ingredients that even picky eaters would appreciate. It’s essentially a round omelette with ground pork, onions, and potatoes.

It is sometimes referred to as “tortang giniling” (giniling = ground) because it is made with ground meat, typically pork or beef. This distinguishes it from different versions of torta. For instance, there’s “tortang talong” (talong = eggplant). There’s “tortang gulay” (gulay = vegetables), that’s made with different veggies like squash, bittermelon, cabbage, etc. There’s also a dish that is a combination of the above: tortang talong (eggplant) stuffed with ground beef. That dish is called a rellenong talong (relleno refers to anything that is stuffed) but then we are going on a different topic, and I’m here to talk about torta. Specifically ground pork torta.

The torta we eat at home in the Philippines is made painstakingly by my Tita Ine. It has teeny tiny cubes of uniformly cut potatoes that mingles seamlessly with the juicy ground pork, all in a delicate frittata-like casing, flavored simply with white onions and salt (never pepper). She cooks the ground pork first, then the potatoes and onions, adds in eggs that have been whisked into submission, and then flips the entire pan into a plate, and transfers it back to the pan to cook the other side. I’ve tried many times to recreate her recipe and follow her instructions, but it never turns out the same because 1) my knife skills are not great / I don’t have the patience to cut teeny tiny cubes of potatoes, 2) my flipping skills need work (there’s been more than one occasion of a torta gone wrong), and 3) I always seem to overstuff my torta and it doesn’t exactly come out as a delicate piece of art.

So I decided to make my own, easier, non-intimidating version. I made a few updates: 1) I roughly chop the potatoes into half-inch cubes, 2) I bake the torta, which saves me the stress of flipping it, and 3) I use a deep dish pan so even if it’s overstuffed, things don’t spill out of the pan, and instead it comes out as one big sturdy-looking frittata.

Below is my own recipe, which my husband and I make at least every other week. It has the same flavors as the torta I grew up with, and it still goes very well with white rice. But it also goes well with an arugula salad, or a sandwich (with a little smear of mayo, yum), or just eaten by itself. I like dipping it in ketchup, but some people like fish sauce or soy sauce.

Picture provided by Bianca Garcia.

Picture provided by Bianca Garcia.

Baked Filipino Torta by Bianca Garcia

Ingredients
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 lb ground pork
2 medium potatoes, chopped into ½ inch cubes
½ cup chopped white onions
6 large eggs
Salt to taste

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.

  2. On the stovetop, heat olive oil in a large oven-safe pan over medium-high heat (you can use a cast iron skillet or a non-stick pan). Add ground pork. Stir often and break up clumps with a wooden spoon. Cook until browned, about 10 minutes. Season with salt. Remove pork from pan and set aside.

  3. Reduce heat to medium. Add potatoes and cook for about 3 minutes, and then add onions. Cook until onions are translucent and potatoes are soft.

  4. Beat the eggs with a generous pinch of salt.

  5. Add eggs to pan. Let sit on stovetop for a minute or two, until edges start to set, and then transfer to oven.

  6. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until eggs are set.

  7. Slice into wedges and serve.

I know that torta could mean different things for different cuisines: it could be a Mexican sandwich, a Spanish flatbread, an Italian cake, a Brazilian pie. But to me, it’s an egg concoction with ground meat and veggies. To me, it has always been Tita Ine’s torta. And now, it’s mine, too.


We’re always looking for BOSFilipinos blog writers! If you’d like to contribute, send us a note at info@bosfilipinos.com.

Todos Los Santos in the Philippines

by Bianca Garcia

pt_coco_31b33206.jpeg

Do you celebrate All Saints’ Day? I do, and lately the movie Coco has been on my mind. I love how the movie showcased Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead), when big throngs of family and friends congregate at the cemetery to commemorate their loved ones. The movie tugged at my heartstrings because it reminded me so much of how we celebrate Todos Los Santos (All Saints’ Day) in the Philippines.

Each year on November 1st, Filipinos swarm to the cemeteries to honor our beloved family and friends who have passed away. Some families would come the previous day, some would come the next day (on All Souls’ Day), and some would stay there for the three days. Some people camp out and spend the night, and the cemeteries are literally packed with people, food, light, flowers, candles, and music.

The energy during Todos Los Santos is anything but sad. The holiday has become a de facto family reunion, so there’s a jovial feeling in the air. Filipinos honor our loved ones who have passed by bringing their favorite foods, reminiscing about them, praying for them, and keeping our memories of them alive. There is something very uplifting about celebrating the lives of our dead, instead of mourning their deaths.     

In my family, we go to two cemeteries - one for my mother’s side, and another for my father’s side. We bring food, we pray, we catch up with our relatives. The kids play, the adults talk, we all eat and enjoy our time together. I am sad that some of my family have passed too soon: Lolo Ising, Lolo Leno, Lola Nading,Tito Jun,  Ate Isabel. But I am also happy that I still have them in my life - through my living relatives, and through Todos Los Santos.

*Quick Filipino vocab:

Lolo = grandfather

Lola = grandmother

Tito = uncle

Ate = older sister

PAMANA Filipino Parade and Festival

By Bianca Garcia

We had a blast celebrating the 120th Philippine Independence Day with PAMANA (Philippine-American Mainstream Mainstream Advocacy for Nonpartisans Associations) last weekend. We ran a dessert booth in collaboration with BOSFilipinos and Confessions of a Chocoholic, and it was a hit! I made mini ensaymadas, Leila made leche flan, and our friend and BOSFilipinos member Val made calamansi bars.

Here are some pics from the day:

After the parade, there were some welcome comments, a flag raising, and various types of performances. And of course: Filipino food in abundance. Quintessential Filipino foods like lumpia, longsilog (longganisa + sinangag + itlog) plates, pancit, BBQ, halo-halo, and other snacks fueled us throughout the day and brought us a taste of home.

Our neighbors at the next booth were the Pulutan Boyz, Philjay (you may have seen him at BOSFilipinos events) and Mac, slinging longganisa and tocino sliders.

It was such a fun day seeing other Filipinos and celebrating our culture together.

Thank you so much to everyone who stopped by our booth to say hello and buy our desserts! We hope we were able to entice some of you to be a part of the BOSFilipinos gang in some way. Thank you to Jen and PAMANA for coordinating the Independence Day celebration. And maraming salamat to Val for baking goodies, and to Matt for driving us all to Attleboro.

In case you missed us at the parade, don’t worry, you can find us at the next Filipino event on June 23rd at the 2nd Annual Filipino Festival in Malden. And don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter to catch up with us every month.

You can also reach out to us at info@bosfilipinos.com and tell us how else we can build on the Filipino community. Or better yet, let us know how you want to participate.

We look forward to meeting more of you soon. Mabuhay!

(More pics on our Facebook page.)

Food and Recipes Inspired by My Mom Celia

By Bianca Garcia

Continuing our May celebration of mothers, I want to talk about my mom, Celia. She is my most influential food guides. She has always been the first one to introduce me to different tastes and flavors from all over the world. I learned to love food because of her, and as fate would have it, I now have a food blog where I can share my favorite foods with the world, too.

Here are some of my mom-inspired recipes and favorite foods that I’ve shared on my blog:

kesong puti, pan de sal, tsokolate © Bianca Garcia

kesong puti, pan de sal, tsokolate © Bianca Garcia

It all started when I was still in utero, and my pregnant mom was constantly craving and eating kesong puti, the milky white cheese that’s native to the Philippines. It’s essentially buffalo mozzarella, but creamier and fresher. According to Filipino superstition, my mom’s pregnancy craving was the main reason why I myself developed a lifelong longing for kesong puti.

sardinas © Bianca Garcia

sardinas © Bianca Garcia

My mom is the one who taught me to love sardinas (sardines), the Spanish or Portuguese kind, in oil and spices. I love these little sardines (that still have skin and bones), on top whole wheat bread, toasted dark, slathered with creamy butter.

key lime pie © Bianca Garcia

key lime pie © Bianca Garcia

My mom loves key lime pie, and (surprise!) so do I. Key limes are smaller than regular limes, with a more yellowish skin, instead of bright green. They are very similar to Filipino calamansi. I would juice a million key limes by hand for my mom!

(Here’s my easy recipe for Key Lime Pie.)

caramel thumbprint cookies © Bianca Garcia

caramel thumbprint cookies © Bianca Garcia

My mom cannot turn down anything “turtle” flavored - chocolate, caramel, pecans. These little turtle cookies are a nice little treat. Like me, she enjoys dessert. But unlike me, she’s typically content with smaller portions (ha!).

(Here’s my recipe for Caramel Thumbprint Cookies.)

moms-pasta-sauce-600x400.jpg

My mom makes me feel like I can do anything. She believes that I can go to Harvard, land my my dream job(s), star in a TV show, rule the world. Thanks to her encouragement and support, I have done it all. Well, I’m still waiting on that last part, but Beyonce says we already run the world anyway…

Her faith in my cooking also helped me finally recreate her famous pasta sauce, which is like a mixture of a bolognese with a surf and turf plate. It’s a meat-lovers sauce (ground beef + bacon + Italian sausage) with big juicy shrimp. It’s as mouth-watering as it sounds.   

(Here’s the recipe for My Mom’s Pasta Sauce.)

mini almond cinnamon buns © Bianca Garcia

mini almond cinnamon buns © Bianca Garcia

When I see any kind of citrus marmalade - orange, lemon, grapefruit - I immediately think of my mom. And when I see a breakfast treat or pastry studded with nuts - almonds, pecans, walnuts - I think of my mom as well. I wanted to make a citrusy breakfast inspired by her favorite flavors, and landed on little cinnamon buns with almond paste, slivered almonds, and Meyer lemon marmalade.

Meyer lemons, by the way, are like a cross between a lemon and an orange. They’re sweet and not as tart as their more ubiquitous cousins. They’re also smaller with a thinner skin that has a slightly more orange tint, and they come into season during mid-winter to late spring. They remind me of Filipino dalandan.

(Here’s my recipe for Mini Almond Cinnamon Buns.)

crab cake linguini © Bianca Garcia

crab cake linguini © Bianca Garcia

Even though I’m a woman in my thirties, I am not exactly adept at eating crab, one of my favorite seafoods. That’s because whenever I’m home or with my parents, I turn into a child and ask my mom to do the work  for me. Shell the crab, pick the meat, open the claws – the whole show. She’s just so adept at it! (And I’m too lazy.) My mom and I both love crab cakes, so I made this easy but luxurious-tasting linguini with crab cakes.

(Here’s my recipe for Crab Cake Linguini.)

cheesy anchovy toast © Bianca Garcia

cheesy anchovy toast © Bianca Garcia

Last but not least, since my mom was the one who influenced my love for anchovies and all things cheesy (melted cheese, snacking cheese, cheesecake, cacio e pepe - if it has cheese, give it to me) I recently made this anchovy toast. Crunchy bread, garlicky cheese spread, and salty anchovies, finished with a shower of chopped chives and red pepper flakes. The flavors are unapologetically strong, not for the fainthearted, and perfect in every way.

(Here’s my recipe for Cheesy Anchovy Toast.)

Bianca and Mom in the 80s © Bianca Garcia

Bianca and Mom in the 80s © Bianca Garcia

Thank you, Mommy, for introducing me to the foods that have become my favorites  <3

I hope I was able to inspire some of you to make something delicious and enjoy it with your mom and loved ones!

Filipino Chicken Adobo Recipe

By Bianca Garcia

© Bianca Garcia

© Bianca Garcia

During one of our early BOSFilipinos meetings, Leila, Trish, and I talked about our family’s version of adobo. I said my family’s is very vinegary, Trish said her family’s is a little sweet, and Leila said her family’s is pretty balanced, with equal amounts of soy sauce and vinegar. We all said our family’s version is the best.

If you don’t know yet, adobo is any meat or any combination of meats that is are braised and simmered in vinegar, soy sauce, lots of garlic, black peppercorn, and bay leaves. Saveur wrote a good Beginner’s Guide to Adobo. It’s the unofficial national dish of the Philippines, so ingrained in our culture, that just the thought of the fragrant stew can make any Filipino think fondly of home.

One of the wonderful things about adobo is you can alter it in many different ways to make it your own. You can change the ratio of vinegar and soy sauce, you can use different meats (my family’s go to is pork and liver) or vegetables (my favorite is sitaw, or string beans), you can add coconut milk, a little sugar, onions, ginger, hard-boiled eggs, chilies. However way you make it, I’m sure it will be delicious. And pretty soon, you’ll be claiming your version is the best.

CHICKEN ADOBO Recipe by Bianca Garcia

INGREDIENTS

6 chicken thighs (bone-in, skin-on)

1 ½ cups vinegar

½ cup soy sauce

10 garlic cloves (around 1 whole head of garlic), smashed

1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns

1 teaspoon coarse salt

8-10 dried bay leaves

1 cup water

1 tablespoon olive oil

fresh chives for garnish

DIRECTIONS

  1. Place the chicken, vinegar, soy sauce, bay leaves, salt, peppercorns, and seven of the smashed garlic cloves in a heavy pot over medium heat. Add one cup water, plus more if necessary, to barely cover the meat. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes.

  2. Remove the cover and simmer, uncovered, for another 30 minutes.

  3. Use a slotted spoon to remove the chicken and set aside. Increase heat to high and allow the broth to continue simmering.

  4. In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the remaining garlic cloves. Add chicken and sear each piece on both sides until golden brown and skin is crispy.

  5. Return chicken to the pot, and continue reducing the sauce by simmering for at least 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens to your liking. Serve with white rice, and garnish with chives, green onion, and/or chilies.

If you’d like to read more of my story, check out my post on Filipino Chicken Adobo on Confessions of a Chocoholic.

And If you’d like to explore other variations, check out the following recipes:

Chicken Adobo is the Greatest Recipe of All time by Bon Appetit

What I Cook When I’m Alone: Top Chef Winner Paul Qui’s Pork Adobo Recipee

Enjoy!
 

Of Cockfights and Adobo

by Bianca Garcia

© Bianca Garcia

© Bianca Garcia

This is an excerpt of an article I wrote for Offline Magazine (now shuttered down). I wanted to write about a controversial local tradition, and weave in stories about my family and food (of course). The entire piece is published on my blog.

--

I stared at the gates outside the arena, gray and rusty, paint peeling off. The scorching sun was beating down on us, bright and relentless, and on the ground there were clouds of dirt being kicked around by the flip flops that everyone wears. There were sounds of children playing nearby. It was a typical provincial scene, grand and quaint at the same time. We shuffled to the entrance, and then we entered a different world.

We were at the cockfighting arena in San Fernando, Pampanga, a province in the Philippines. Dark, humid, loud and thumping, I could feel a frantic energy pulsing in the air. It was my first time going to see a cockfight, or “sabong” as it is called in Filipino. Cockfighting is a blood sport so violent that it’s outlawed in many other countries, but it has been part of Filipino culture for centuries.

In the Philippines, cockfighting is a great equalizer, where the rich and poor come together without any class distinctions. It is a community activity that brings neighbors together and ignites the bonding of the townsfolk’s men. A common joke among the wives is that the roosters are luckier than they are, because their husbands caress and lovingly massage the roosters first thing in the morning. Up until the 60s, when most parts of the country started becoming more urbanized, almost every backyard had chicken and rooster coops, with every family being invested in the sport of cockfighting.

To read the rest of the article, please head over to Confessions of a Chocoholic.

BOSFilipinos and Milagros Project Pop-Up Dinner Recap

by Bianca Garcia

My heart was beating fast, my hands were sweating, and I smelled like adobo. I glanced around the cozy space at Saus and saw my team whirring around: Trish was going over the floor plan and putting last minute touches on the dining tables, Leila was prepping garnishes behind the counter, Saima was heading down towards the kitchen with a determined look on her face, and Chef Roland was laser-focused on the food, carrying big pots filled with deliciousness. I grinned wide and welcomed the first guest. We were ready to rock and roll.

Clockwise from top left: Leila, Roland, Bianca, and Trish  © Bianca Garcia

Clockwise from top left: Leila, Roland, Bianca, and Trish

© Bianca Garcia

The next few hours went by in a blur. We were fortunate to have sold out both seatings for the evening, and there was a general buzz of excitement in the packed restaurant that sustained throughout the night. Once the food started coming out, we heard plenty of “oohs,” “ahhs,”  and “mmms.” The diners were happy and satisfied, and so were we. The Filipino Food Pop-Up Event by BOSFilipinos and The Milagros Project was a success! Below are a few pictures from the evening:

scallop kinilaw&nbsp;  © Matt Nagy

scallop kinilaw 

© Matt Nagy

ilocos empanada  © Matt Nagy

ilocos empanada

© Matt Nagy

chicken inasal steeam bun  © Matt Nagy

chicken inasal steeam bun

© Matt Nagy

pork ribs adobo  © Matt Nagy

pork ribs adobo

© Matt Nagy

leche flan  © Cathy Buena

leche flan

© Cathy Buena

Chef Roland talking to diners  © Bianca Garcia

Chef Roland talking to diners

© Bianca Garcia

happy diners  © Bianca Garcia

happy diners

© Bianca Garcia

the night's menu ( hapunan  means dinner in Filipino)&nbsp;  © Matt Nagy

the night's menu (hapunan means dinner in Filipino) 

© Matt Nagy

dried mangoes and bananas  © Bianca Garcia

dried mangoes and bananas

© Bianca Garcia

We are all grateful for this incredible experience. The months of preparations and meetings (filled with food, no complaints) were worth it, and we are proud of our very first eat-up. Extra special thanks to: Chef Roland of The Milagros Project for sharing his talent and letting Boston have a little taste of the Philippines via his tasting menu; Chin, Lucas, Tanya, Aimee, Renee, and the rest of the team at Saus for their help and participation; our friend Saima for rocking out with us that night; my hubby Matt for designing our menu and branding; and of course to our attendees, family, and friends for the support and encouragement.  

MARAMING SALAMAT PO! THANK YOU VERY MUCH!

the team post-event  © Bianca Garcia

the team post-event

© Bianca Garcia

Kesong Puti and Me

By Bianca Garcia

I unwrap the cheese quickly, but carefully. I once did so haphazardly, greedily, and the wrapper of bright green banana leaves cut the skin on my fingertips. But now I do so gingerly, unraveling the six-inch logs of white cheese, pre-cut into little disks that are about half-inch thick, fresh from the local market, with the milk still dripping from the woven leaves. It is kesong puti, one of my very favorite foods in the world.

© Bianca Garcia

© Bianca Garcia

Kesong puti is a local Filipino white cheese made from pure carabao’s milk. It is essentially fresh buffalo mozzarella, but more tart, and softer than any other cheese I can think of, with a mildly pungent smell and a creamy aftertaste. I would often have it for breakfast with warm pan de sal (traditional Filipino breakfast rolls) and tsokolate (hot chocolate). Sometimes I’d spread butter on the bread, but I typically enjoyed my kesong puti plain and unadorned. I savored its flavor as much as I could, because I didn’t know when I could eat it again.

I have been living in the US for the last thirteen years, and have only been going back home to the Philippines once a year or so. When you ask any foreigner or immigrant living in the US what they miss most about home, the answers are likely to be family, friends, and food. And I do miss the food, especially my beloved kesong puti.

I tried to look for it elsewhere. In Boston, I tried the fresh mozzarella balls sold in fancy supermarkets. I tried the ones sold at the lively farmers markets that sprout up during the summer, with vendors in stalls hawking their homemade cheese. I tried different kinds of cheeses from Vermont, a state known for its happy cows that produce delectable cheeses. But as amazing as they all tasted, nothing ever satisfied my longing for kesong puti. Next, I tried the Mexican white cheeses, packaged similarly to the “high-end” cheeses I remember buying in Rustan’s (a top grocery store in the Philippines), but those shrink-wrapped squares of cheese lacked the pungency and tenderness of the fresh-from-the-market cheese logs. I even tried the fresh mozzarella in Italy – I ate it in Milan, in Venice, in Tuscany – and still nothing. Nothing came close to the taste of the kesong puti from home. No cheese sings to me, no cheese calls me by name, no cheese makes me want to brave a nearly 24-hour long flight with the premise of my favorite breakfast waiting for me at home.

© Bianca Garcia

© Bianca Garcia

I love kesong puti for breakfast. I eat it with bread, but I also eat it melted over white rice (I heat it in the microwave then slide the oozy, gooey cheese on top of the rice). I love making breakfast sandwiches with it, with longganisa (Filipino sausages), or with leftover pork adobo. I love it plain. I can eat one whole log of kesong puti plain. Okay, two whole logs. Or three. And my love for it, according to Philippine superstition, can be traced back to my mother, who had a daily obsession with this cheese the whole time she was pregnant with me.

Bianca is the Italian word for white or pure. My mother told me that in the entire time she was pregnant with me, she had such a manic craving for kesong puti that she would fly into a rage if she did not find it on the breakfast table. When I was born, she said I looked so fair and radiant with a complexion “white as milk.”  This could very well be an exaggeration of motherly pride, or if you believe in Filipino superstition, it’s lihi.

It is common knowledge that pregnant women often have food cravings, but according to Filipino folklore, my mother was experiencing lihi, a condition in which a pregnant woman strongly craves certain foods – weird or not. Lihi leads to the child having physical attributes (skin color, hair texture, face shape, even birthmarks) that mimic the visual characteristics of that food. This also leads to a supposed lifelong fondness – an eternal craving – for that food that was fed to the baby in utero.

I like imagining my pregnant mom going mad if kesong puti was not on the table. I like picturing myself possibly doing the same thing in the future, already planning to use hormones as an excuse just to get my daily dose of cheese. I like thinking how kesong puti will always be an unbreakable bond between me and my mother – the woman who introduced me to it while I was still in her womb. Perhaps I love it so much because I was introduced to it with love, as well.

© Bianca Garcia

© Bianca Garcia

At the breakfast table, I pick up another piece of the cheese and chew it slowly, while waiting for my family to join me. In my excitement – and jetlag – I was at the breakfast table early, and have nearly finished an entire log of kesong puti. My dad sits at the head of the table, sipping his coffee languidly. My two sisters start piling food on their plates. And I see my mom standing near the kitchen sink, quickly but carefully unwrapping the kesong puti wrapped in bright green banana leaves.

Kesong puti itself is not luminous or colorful or magnificent to look at; it is plain, white, and so simple-looking that it’s easy to pass it off as bland. But to me, it is beautiful. It is soft and comforting and delicious. It is my mom’s breakfast, and it is also mine.