Tuesday, June 20, 2017

3 Cooking Tips for Beginners + An Easy Recipe!

Don't you hate it when you check a recipe and they neglect to tell you something important? I still consider myself a beginner home cook but I'm trying to change that now that I'm a newly-minted wife. I've collected hundreds of recipes and cook books over the years but it's only now that I get to use them every day, as opposed to when I was still single and I would only cook when I felt like it.


The problem I find with some recipes is they assume that you're already an experienced cook and they forget to tell you something important that needs to be done in between the steps. For example, this may seem like common knowledge and automatic to a lot of cooks, but when using Baguio beans or green beans, did you know that you have to remove the strings on the sides? Yes, because if you don't it's highly likely they'd end up stuck in between your teeth. Here's a video of a grandpa teaching us a fast way to string green beans!

Here are three other cooking tips you won't normally see on recipes:

1. When cooking paksiw or adobo, don't stir it immediately after adding the vinegar. Let it boil or reboil, and after that you can stir the pot. This is so the vinegar can cook properly, and it won't taste acidic or uncooked. In Filipino, it won't be "hilaw." 

2. When choosing okra for your sinigang or pinakbet, try to see if you can easily snap the tip. That's how to tell if they're still fresh aside from their bright green color. I once bought old okra and it was tough once cooked. :( Now I always remember to check my okra before I buy.

EXTRA TIP: It's better to buy in the market if there's one near you. The price is lower, and if you get there early enough, you get fresher veggies!

3. Tinola spoils easily. I don't know why since it doesn't have tomatoes or dairy in it (hit the comments if you know the reason!). Once you see bubbles, it's a bad sign. So either you cook it in small batches you can finish immediately, or always remember to store it properly in the fridge once it cools after cooking. When reheating, only reheat enough portion you can finish because the hot and cold temp also hastens its spoilage.

And now for an easy peasy recipe you can cook in 30 minutes! I just made it this Sunday. This recipe is perfect for busy nights when you worked overtime, have a deadline to beat, or still have some household chores to finish.

I got this Chicken & Broccoli Stir Fry recipe from Martha Stewart's website, and I just tweaked some ingredients with what I have in our pantry. You can visit the link because there's also a step-by-step video there to really guide beginner cooks. I'm also putting the recipe here with my tweaks. Comments in parenthesis and NOTES are mine.

Chicken & Broccoli Stir Fry


2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar (I used apple cider vinegar)
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 tablespoon cornstarch (I used 3 tablespoons of flour)
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (this is for cooking, don't mix it with the sauce)
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1/2-inch strips (I used chicken breast fillets)
3 tablespoons minced peeled fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 scallions, thinly sliced
1 bunch broccoli, cut into small florets, stalks peeled and thinly sliced 1
Cooked white rice, for serving


1. Whisk together soy sauce, vinegar, oyster sauce, cornstarch, and sesame oil.
NOTE: If you don't have cornstarch at home, you can use flour. I used 3 tbsps. of flour to substitute for 1 tbsp. of cornstarch. You just need to cook the sauce a little longer later on.

2. In a wok or large skillet (I used a large frying pan), heat vegetable oil over high. Add chicken and cook until browned for 10 minutes. Add ginger, garlic, scallions, and broccoli and cook, stirring frequently, until broccoli is bright green, for 3 minutes. (I forgot to buy scallions but that's fine!)

3. Add 1/4 cup water, scraping up browned bits with a wooden spoon.
NOTE: Add more water if you'd like it to be saucier, like my husband does. It's great to mix with rice.

4. Stir in soy sauce mixture and cook, stirring until thickened, for 1 minute. Serve warm with rice.

You can always adjust the sauce according to your taste. Either add more water or oyster sauce depending on your preference.

Broccoli is one of my favorite vegetables! So crunchy, filling, and nutritious. It also has few calories since it's mostly water. :)

You can also cook this in a big batch since it reheats well. Just make sure to store it in an airtight container. 

Do you have cooking tips you want to share? Do leave them in the comments below!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Remembering My Dad on Father's Day

My father died when I was 14 years old, and that meant he wasn't there to see me during my milestones: graduate high school, turn 18, get my college degree, publish my first story, and walk down the aisle. 

Even though my Dad wasn't physically there, he didn't just fade into the background when he left. For those who have read my earliest blog posts back in college, I have always strived to keep my Dad's memory alive, and I'm fortunate he left us a deep well of memories to take from. 

A few months before getting married, I ran into a financial problem brought about by another family member. I asked a friend for advice on whether I should fix it and reallocate a portion of my wedding funds. What she and her husband told me gave me pause, and made me grateful once again that even beyond his life, my Dad tried his best to protect and provide for us. 

My friend and her husband said I have survived without that certain problem hanging over my head for years, and it was not something that needed immediate fixing. My wedding, however, only happens once. And aside from the celebrations, what we need to prepare for most is the marriage that would come after. She said my father would have loved the thought that he helped pay for my wedding. I also can't forget what her husband said, "As a father, I would love it if my kids are still feeling my love for them even long after I'm gone." And we do!

On my wedding day, with no one from my immediate family present except for my younger sister, I still celebrated with a full and grateful heart. I had a locket with my Dad's picture tied to my bouquet, so I can say he was still with me when I walked down the aisle to my husband. But even without that memento, I am living proof that you can overcome so much with more than enough love from a parent.

This Father's Day, as billions of children around the world celebrate and honor their father, I am happy albeit a bit wistful, that they get to spend more time with their first heroes. I can only wish them well, and tell you dear readers to let your fathers know how awesome they are while you still can! 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Wedding Supplier Review: Our Prenup Photo Shoot with Bob & Zab Photography

I'm going to jump a few steps ahead of my Wedding Wednesday posts to tell you what happened behind the scenes of our prenup photo shoot in February.

I wrote this supplier review to help other brides-to be out there in their quest of finding their wedding photographers, and to determine if they should even proceed with having an engagement/prenup photo shoot.

I remember when my brother and I were talking many years ago, he told me that he didn't want to have a prenup photo shoot. He said he found it awkward to be posing in front of people he barely knows, and that a couple who already had a lot of photos together (especially ones from their travels) didn't need a photo shoot anymore. It would probably best for couple who haven't been together for long. At that time, prenup photo shoots weren't a staple at weddings yet, and finding a good prenup location was hard especially for city folk.

When Jay and I got engaged, I initially didn't want to have a prenup shoot either. We have been together a long time and have accumulated more than our fair share of photos, including ones of our local and international travels. But my main concern was the budget. I felt like it was an unnecessary expense.

But when we booked Bob & Zab Photography as our wedding photographers, their package included a free engagement shoot. We got a really good deal from them, and I began to warm towards the idea of having our prenup shoot.

There are five main things to consider when preparing for your prenup shoot aside from your photographers:

1. Shoot Location
2. Hair & Makeup
3. Outfits
4. Props/Styling
5. Food & Transportation

If you add all those costs, they can really put a dent on your budget. So I had to make sure we can pull off a shoot without shelling out too much. Fortunately, my good friend and groomsman's family farm in Tanay, Rizal was a great location for our shoot. We didn't really have a theme in mind yet, our photographers just suggested an outdoor shoot and preferably with lots of greenery to blend with their light and vibrant style. After doing an ocular with Jay and our friend Kenneth, and getting the go signal from his lovely aunt to use the farm, we checked number 1 off our list.

For the hair and makeup, the best suggestion is to do a trial with the hair and makeup artist for your wedding. Trials usually come with a fee, so it's best to do a trial when you have an event to attend, or in this case, a photo shoot to do. When I asked my bridal HMUA if they were available for our shoot date, they already had a booking. Since it's harder to book my photographers, I had to search for an affordable HMUA. Tats Dionisio was recommended by a sister from W@W. 

I contacted Tats thru Facebook Messenger, and only got his phone number a few days before the shoot. Tats does both hair and makeup, and he offers unli retouch for the day. His rate is very reasonable, and I only added a couple of hundred bucks for his transportation to our meeting place.

When I was searching for a HMUA for the shoot, I was a bit baffled why they would give an initial rate then ask for an additional stipend for their transportation. I asked my other bride friends why they wouldn't just automatically add them up to their rate. Some told me that it depends on the shoot location/meet-up. And that we need to consider the heavy tools and equipment they would need to lug around especially when they are only using public transpo.

As for our outfits, I knew we wouldn't hire a stylist anymore because that would be beyond our budget. I only planned for three layouts: one casual, one formal, and one for our picnic layout. Jay's suit designer, Bianca Cordero, had an RTW gown at her studio and it fit like a glove when I tried it on. It was light peach/pink and had a long, wide train, perfect for windy and willowy shots. Back story: Jay was supposed to wear a suit for our formal layout, but as mishaps go, he forgot to bring it on the day of the shoot. Hehe. Good thing he had several long sleeved shirts to choose from.

I had a short trip to Singapore before our shoot, so I asked my Maid of Honor to accompany me to Bugis Street to buy some of my outfits. I then picked out Jay's outfits to match mine, and consulted a couple of friends with my choices. Zab also helped me out by suggesting to bring/buy a flowy dress, and to bring matching white shirts. After the shoot though, Jay and I wished we changed one of our outfits as we think they didn't really translate well on the photos.

As for our props, I didn't need to look further than my own stuff! Aside from being a hoarder and natural maarte, I thank my experience doing production management for our high school plays and later on, producing magazine shoots for work. They certainly came in handy. It was also perfect timing that my aunt got married in Tagaytay a couple of days before our shoot, so she gave me several flower arrangements (including her bridal bouquet!) to use. And just to push my wish to wear a flower crown, I bought a simple headband at the grocery, and using the wires from the bouquets, I created my own flower crown! Haha.

For our transportation, we rented a van for Php3,500 for the whole day (driver and gas included). We brought breakfast sandwiches and snacks for everyone, and we had our lunch at a nearby restaurant. Our gracious hosts served us dinner before we left. We were lucky that our photographers and our HMUA waived their out-of-town fees (OOTF) when we informed them that we'll be providing the transportation and food for the shoot.

We decided to meet with Tats along Kamuning in Cubao, and then proceed to Bob's residence also in Kamuning. Bob & Zab brought along their friend Earl to assist them, so all in all there were 7 of us traveling to Tanay. It was a Friday and we thought there would be heavy traffic along Katipunan and Marcos Highway because of the LRT construction, but were surprised that there wasn't. We arrived in Tanay a little past 9am. After showing Bob & Zab around the farm, laying out our outfits and showing them our pegs and props, Zab suggested we take a nap before heading out for lunch.

We started our makeup around 12:30pm. Everything was going well at first. Tats had a light hand, his tools were clean and arranged neatly, and he worked relatively fast. But we hit a snag when my right eye wouldn't stop tearing up because of my contact lens. I thought it was just natural at first as it happens every time I'm being made-up, but when it wouldn't stop even after I inverted the lens, we decided to just remove both lenses. Later on in the bathroom I found a makeup particle on my right eye, but even after flushing it with running water, it was already irritated. Also, I couldn't wash it out properly as I was already fully made up, and we will get delayed if we'll start over again.These things happen.

I'd like to commend Tats for his patience. I've lost count how many times he retouched my right eye makeup. He was also attentive during the shoot, ready with a tissue to wipe away my tears as the winds were picking up and further irritating my eye. I also requested him to take behind the scene shots using my phone. His makeup also lasted the whole day, and aside from retouching my eye makeup several times, he only needed to change my lipstick shade and my hairstyle for the other layouts. In Filipino, his work was plakado (in place or perfect).

Bob & Zab were a delight to shoot with. They kept a light and jovial mood during the shoot, cracking jokes and playing music to keep the atmosphere lively. They would direct us and find our right angles. During the portrait shots, Zab took my photos while Bob took Jay's. Bob also gave Jay tips that proved useful come our wedding day. And when they noticed that we were getting tired, they would remind us to smile. I won't disclose it here, but Jay and I really loved Zab's special way of getting us to smile and laugh. Even after the shoot, Jay and I would do it and it still makes us giggle.

Our contract stated that our prenup shoot is only for 3-4 hours, but of course we had Bob & Zab for the whole day. The duo is set to get married later this year, and during our breaks we talked about our wedding preps. This is when it dawned on me the importance of having a prenup photo shoot. Not only will you have great photos to remember this milestone by, but it will also allow you to bond with your suppliers, be at ease in front of the camera, and trust that your photographers will capture your best moments on your wedding. Having a supplier that goes above and beyond what is required is a great thing to have on your most special day. 

Bob & Zab required us to bring a laptop or external hard drive and right after our shoot, they gave us all the raw files. This is a good step because you'll already have a copy of the files and you can retrieve them just in case your photographers' files get corrupted.

Because they have a specific style that requires color editing, we didn't get the edited photos right away. Zab just said to choose around 20 photos that they will edit immediately, so we can post teasers on our social media and wedding pages. 

Prenup shoots are usually done around a month before the wedding, but I think it was a good decision for us to hold ours two months before our date. We received the teaser photos around 3 weeks after our shoot, and the whole set of edited photos a couple of weeks before the wedding day. I would suggest this if your chosen photographers still has a small team and do the editing themselves. Zab is a self-confessed OC and has particular standards for their output. But I can assure you, the wait will be worth it. 

For more photos of our engagement shoot, head over here. 

Suppliers' Contact Details:

Bob & Zab Photography
Instagram: @bobandzab

Tats Dionisio Hair & Makeup Artist
Facebook: Tats Dionisio
Instagram: @tatsdionisio
Mobile No: +639361094709

Van Rental c/o Kuya JR
Mobile No: +639225454980