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Cooking is a challenge

07 August 2018

Gina N. Ordona
For this issue we feature one of the longtime contributors of The SUN who has transformed herself in recent years as an excellent and versatile cook.

Gina N. Ordona, who has a degree in agribusiness from the Mindanao State University, has been working in Hong Kong for more than 20 years, but it was only when she started working for the family of Filcom leader Daphne Ceniza-Kuok six years ago that she has blossomed into one of the most prolific and talented cooks hereabouts. From cooking mainly Chinese dishes, Gina’s repertoire now extends to all things Asian – including Thai, Malaysian, Vietnamese, Korean, and of course, Filipino - to Middle Eastern and Western dishes.

What’s more amazing is, Gina has practically taught herself to cook many of the dishes, although she also gets a lot of support from her employer who is no stranger to the kitchen herself. Gina attributes much of her cooking skills to challenging herself to come up with a complete meal each time her very popular employer invites friends over. It doesn’t hurt, either, that “Ma’am Daphne” is herself a certified gourmet, and brings home a lot of exotic ingredients from her frequent travels abroad.

We emailed some questions to Gina to find out more about what inspires her to cook and continually search for new dishes, and she came up with very comprehensive answers that we decided to print the Q&A in full, as below:

Q: How long have you been with the Kuoks? Is cooking your main job for the family?
A: I’ve been working with the Kuok family for 6 years now and I am responsible for cooking meals for the family.

Q: How did you develop your love for cooking? 
A: My employer loves to entertain. Definitely the regular flow of guests coming over for lunch or dinner including the weekly Bible Study session is a big factor. It gives me purpose to create something new.  I always challenge myself to come up with cohesive menu so I explore.

Q: How did you learn to cook so many dishes?
A: My employer has given me so much leeway in the kitchen. Our pantry is filled with spices and ingredients to use for different cuisines so I took advantage of it. I also try to understand the flavor profile of each cuisine by reading food blogs and watching cooking shows. 

Q: It’s usual for those who cook to have hits and misses. What is your best “hit” (or favorite culinary creation) and your worst miss (as in “palpak”), and how you tried to remedy this.
A: I don’t have a particular favorite or best “hit” dish but if I am to name my worst miss, it would be Braised Pork Belly (a Chinese recipe). I tried several times to follow different ways of cooking it, but the results were all the same; the meat always comes out tough and dry instead of “melt-in- your-mouth” goodness.

Q: You seem to have a big budget for your cooking, but are there dishes that you could recommend for those who are on a tight budget?
A: Dishes that are packed with flavors are not necessarily expensive. For example, the humble bean curd or tofu has so many possibilities, like Chinese mapo tofu, Korean sundubu-jjigae or beancurd stew, Japanese agedashi tofu or deep-fried tofu etc. My advice is, keep exploring and don’t be afraid to try new recipes.

Q: Where do you usually buy your food supplies and ingredients?
A: I go shopping for seafood, fruit and vegetables in the wet market. I buy meat and chicken in the supermarket.

Q: What are your culinary aspirations, if any?
A: As of now, wala po. Just love to cook for family and friends.


Pomelo Salad
INGREDIENTS
Dressing:
1 tbsp palm sugar
1½ tbsp lime juice
2 tsp fish sauce
Thai chilies, to taste
Salad
2 cups Pomelo, torn into chunks
2 tbsp roasted peanuts, coarsely ground
2 tbsp dried shrimp, blitzed in a blender
3 tbsp shallots, thinly sliced
¼ cup mint leaves
¼ cup cilantro leaves

INSTRUCTIONS
 1) In a mortar and pestle, grind the chilies into a paste, then add palm sugar and pound until dissolved.

2) Add fish sauce and lime juice and swirl to mix.

3) Pour the dressing into a mixing bowl, then add all the ingredients and toss to combine.


Green Curry Chicken
 INGREDIENTS
2 cups coconut milk
50 g green curry paste (about 3 Tbsp)
1 cup chicken stock
1 lb chicken thigh, boneless, skinless, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 tbsp palm sugar, finely chopped
1.5-2 tbsp fish sauce
3-4 kaffir lime leaves, roughly torn
1.5 cup bamboo shoots, cooked, sliced into bite-sized pieces
 5 pcs Thai eggplant
¼ cup pea eggplant
1 cup Thai basil
1 spur chilies or ¼ red bell pepper, julienned

INSTRUCTIONS
1) Pour 1 cup of coconut milk in a casserole. Let it boil and reduce until thick and the coconut oil starts to separate from the coconut milk. Add curry paste and sauté, stirring constantly over medium heat for about 2 minutes until the paste.

2) Add chicken thigh and stir to mix with the paste. Add kaffir lime leaves, chicken stock, the remaining 1 cup of coconut milk, palm sugar and 1 Tbsp fish sauce. Bring to a boil and simmer gently for 10-15 minutes or until the chicken is fork-tender.

3) Add bamboo shoots and eggplants. Continue simmering until the vegetables are done. Adjust the taste by adding fish sauce as needed. Remove from heat and stir in Thai basil and spur chilies. Serve with jasmine rice.

Fish with Sweet & Sour Chili Sauce
INGREDIENTS
4-5 cloves garlic
2-3 cilantro roots, chopped
1/4 tsp white peppercorns
2-3 spur chili (diced)
3 tbsp chopped palm sugar
1.5 tbsp fish sauce
2.5 tbsp tamarind juice
¼ cup water
¼ cup chopped cilantro
300 grams of any white fish filet

 INSTRUCTIONS
 1) To make the sauce, pound the cilantro roots, garlic, and white pepper using a mortar and pestle until it resembles a rough paste. Add the spur chili, continue pounding until the mixture is incorporated.

2) In a pan, over medium heat, sauté chili mixture in a little oil and stir constantly. When the mixture starts to dry up, add the palm sugar. Once the palm sugar has melted, add water, fish sauce and tamarind juice. Stir and let simmer for 1-2 minutes until you achieve a thick, syrupy consistency. Taste and adjust to your liking. Set aside.

3) To panfry the fish: In a frying pan, add just enough vegetable oil to coat the bottom of the pan and heat over medium-high heat. Fry the fish on both sides until golden brown.

4) To assemble: Place the fish on a serving plate. Spoon a couple tablespoons of the sauce over the fish and pour the rest around the fish. Garnish with cilantro.


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