Betty Ann Besa-Quirino is an author, journalist, food writer, artist, and the culinary talent behind Asian in American Mag. She transforms traditional Filipino food and Asian cuisine to every day dishes in her American kitchen. Read her interview below to discover the amazing life and story of this talented cook.
1. Your bio is quite impressive. You seem to have an amazing family history. Can you tell us the five most interesting facts about your family's history.
- My mother, Lourdes Reyes Besa was a recipient of the United States Medal of Freedom twice – on August and September 1947, for her heroic World War II efforts. She courageously brought medicines to American and Filipino POWs in Japanese-run prison concentration camps.
- My father, Gualberto S. Besa, from Tarlac province in the Philippines was a farmer and agricultural businessman. To me, he was a strong influencer of the ‘farm to table’ concept even before it was the buzz word it is today. Nearly everything on our dinner table was from produce and crops my dad grew in our backyard and farms. This was how I was raised, and I have written about it a lot in my cookbooks and blog.
- My father-in-law, Dr. Constante D. Quirino built the largest private hospital, Central Luzon Doctors’ Hospital in Tarlac province, and probably the largest in the island of Luzon. He harnessed the local medical practitioners in Tarlac and believed that together, they could serve the community better.
- ·In our family, we take pride in honoring my husband’s grand uncle, the late Elpidio R. Quirino, the 6th President of the Philippines. President Quirino’s accomplishments during his term (1948 to 1953) helped the Philippines successfully recover from the ravages of World War II.
- ·My sons are now grown and carving their careers. Tim, my oldest is a product designer for Facebook HQ in Palo Alto, San Francisco. Constante, my youngest is a writer and editor for a company that creates websites. When they’re off from work, both enjoy cooking and creating their own recipes, inspired by what they learned from me and the wholesome, homecooked meals they grew up with. In fact, I created my blog for my sons just as they were leaving for college. I worried they would eat junk food and, so I started writing down recipes for them to cook when they lived away from home.
2. Your accomplishments are incredible! Have you always loved to cook? When did you discover your passion for cooking?
My love for cooking was nurtured by my mom who taught me how to cook. As a little girl, I would sit next to mom, while she watched TV cooking shows and wrote down recipes in her notebook.
In the kitchen, I learned everything I know from mom. She loved to entertain and hosted big family meals. Mom enjoyed cooking every day, 3 meals a day, 24/7 using the ingredients from the farm produce my dad cultivated.
These were the themes for my second cookbook My Mother’s Philippine Recipes and my inspiration for my first cookbook How to Cook Philippine Desserts, Cakes and Snacks, as well as my food blog Asian In America.
3. What other cuisines do you enjoy cooking?
- Spanish-influenced dishes are always on my menu. The Philippines was colonized by Spain for over 300 years so a lot of Filipino dishes and desserts I learned from my mom have that Spanish flavor in it.
- Other Asian dishes similar to Filipino food are also recipes I cook, like for example Chinese, Japanese, Singaporean, Malaysian, Indonesian, Thai-influenced, Vietnamese and the like.
- Baking is another thing I love to do, aside from cooking. Like I said in my Desserts cookbook, I love baking desserts more than cooking—but in reality, we can’t just live on desserts, so I try to strike a balance between everyday cooking and baking. But I do love to give as gifts to friends baked treats I have made.
4. Can you tell us more about your books? Our readers will definitely want to know.
My Mother’s Philippine Recipes (2017): If you have a deep craving for new versions of a classic cuisine, cook from these traditional Filipino recipes transformed into modern, versatile dishes in an American kitchen. This cookbook features my mother's special recipes from my childhood home in the province of Tarlac, cooked with produce harvested from our backyard and farms, expertly grown by my father.
Some family favorites in this cookbook: Sinigang na Baka with Lemongrass, Tokwa’t Lechon, Pancit Palabok, Street-style Fish Balls, Carne Asada Kapampangan, Crispy Pata, Pork Barbecue, Spanish Cocido, Lechon Manok, Beef Kalitiran Pot Roast, Pastillas de Ube, Pastillas de Leche, Ube Puto-Leche Flan and some new dishes like Salted-Egg Potato Chips, Vegetable Siomai, Kangkong Salad with Salted Egg Dressing, Mango Tempura.
In this cookbook of over a hundred pages, 30 selected recipes feature full-color photographs and firsthand commentary from friends and family, I set out to demystify the notion that mom's cooking is an impossible feat. I share conventional wisdom for anyone curious about the flavors of the Philippines. With the right ingredients found in everyday American grocery stores, I recreated her mother’s beloved dishes, capturing the home-cooked charm and the love mom put into the original recipes. This cookbook is for the novice who wants to learn how to cook favorite Filipino dishes or for the culinary pro looking for traditional inspiration.
How to Cook Philippine Desserts, Cakes and Snacks (2016): If you love sweet endings to meals, then this dessert cookbook is for you. I shared 30 heirloom Filipino recipes which I transformed to regular desserts in my American kitchen. Readers will drool over 30 mouthwatering full color dessert photos for every recipe. This is a nearly 100-page cookbook of classic kakanins (rice cakes), coconut sweets like Bibingka, Putong Puti with Cheese, Kuchinta, Sapin-Sapin, Pichi-Pichi; to treasured family recipes of Crema de Fruta, Tocino del Cielo, Taisan de Pampanga, Mamon, Caramel Cake; and popular Ube (purple yam) recipes such as Ube Biko, an easy Ube Haleya, Ube Cupcakes, Ube Doughnuts and many not found on my blog.
Color and Cook Food Coloring Book (2015): Fans of Filipino cuisine can relax and unwind with this unique, adult Food Coloring Book that allows you to color and share the sheets. Filled with over 20 original hand-drawn art I created from recipes of my blog www.AsianInAmericaMag.com. Creative souls will find a delicious assortment of hand-drawn Asian-Filipino food illustrations to color, tear and share plus bonus bookmarks and gift tags at the end of the book.
Statesman and Survivor: Elpidio Quirino, 6th President of the Philippines (2015): I co-authored this book which is a collection of historical quotes by Philippine President Elpidio R. Quirino (1948-1953). This book is a collection of selected presidential quotes curated in commemoration of the late President Quirino's 125th birth anniversary. The 125 famous quotes gathered in these pages are powerful pearls of wisdom, chosen from the President's speeches and writings, which capture his courage, strength, integrity, intelligence, vision and love of country. Quirino admirers will find these timeless quotes as 'mini-instruction manuals' for the spirit and the soul.
5. What are the three original recipes that best represent you as a cook/chef?
I have accumulated many original recipes on my blog Asian in America and my two cookbooks which represent what I have learned as a home cook and as a food writer. So, choosing just three is tough, but I’ll do my best.
- Beef Kalitiran Pot Roast – my mother’s pot roast recipe is how I learned to cook beef perfectly. Beef was an expensive ingredient in the Philippines, so early on I was taught how not to make mistakes and realized the best results come from slow cooking over simmering heat. This is a family favorite which I bring to potlucks or reunions. The recipe is in my new cookbook.
- Tupig – are char-grilled sticky rice logs made of sweet rice, coconut and molasses then wrapped and cooked in banana leaves. These are a delicacy in Tarlac, my hometown. I longed for these hearty snack treats I grew up with, so that when I moved to America, I developed my own recipe. A recipe is in my first cookbook of desserts.
- Food for the Gods – are dessert cookie bars made with dates, raisins, nuts and are baked richly with butter. Filipinos love this date bar and I brought my sister’s recipe with me when I moved to America. I bake these for the holidays. This is the most requested dessert I am asked to bring when invited to gatherings. A recipe is on my blog Asian In America.
My cookbooks and books are sold worldwide on Amazon. The cookbooks are available in paperback and Kindle format.
A percentage of my cookbooks proceeds are donated to my alma mater, St. Paul University (Manila, Philippines) Alumni Foundation for the H.O.P.E. program which provides college scholarships to students from public schools.
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