Sunday, December 06, 2009

Let it snow let it snow let it snow!

In anticipation of my family's arrival for Christmas I've been researching sweet treats to order from home bakers. I personally find the desserts and cakes in the Philippines to be the best in the world, and the creme de la creme are those made and sold straight from people's homes. My family and I have a sweet tooth. Growing up in HK, every time someone would come visit from the Philippines, we'd ask them to handcarry boxes of sans rival, buttercake and Brazo de Mercedes. Now those very familiar desserts have spawned creative variations with every home baker adding their signature touch to call it their own.

I came across a Manila food writer who writes about, among many other food delights, the pleasures of homebaking. Here are some home baked cakes I found on her site that I can't wait to order and try. My family and I are sure to sail through this Christmas on a sugar high!

Pistachio Sans Rival

Jill Sandique of Dèlize33 Sunrise Drive, Cubao, Quezon City721-7022, 497-8811, (0905) 252-2517, (0922) 826-2673(ask for Lea, Mimi, or Vangie)Allow a minimum of 2-3 days for your order(s).

Caramel Cake 44 Samar Ave. Brgy. South Triangle, Quezon City*For orders please call, text, or PM (private message) through Facebook or Friendster or Multiply*Minimum 2 days notice is required for orders.*Pick up is at the address above.

Mango Torte
Dulcelin 36 Times St.West Triangle, Q.C.374-2165 / 374-2167 mobile: 0917-5352592

Strawberry Charlotte of Sweet Bella Sweet Bella844-0680 / 844-9905 / 0928-50250271730 Banyan St.Dasmariñas Village,
Trio of Frozen Brazos from Karen Young
Karen’s Kitchen (KEY Specialty Foods)428 Adalla St. Palm Village, Makati632.8982280
Cheesecake of Jill SandiqueJill Sandique of Dèlize33 Sunrise Drive, Cubao, Quezon City721-7022 (ask for Lea, Mimi, or Vangie). Allow a minimum of 2-3 days for your order(s).

Crazy for Croquettes

Inspired by my brother's risotto manchego balls featured on his daily saliva-inducing blog, I decided to make croquettes to snack on while I lazed about at home this afternoon. I scoured the net for croquette recipes, hoping to find a website or blog dedicated to the gazillion options for croquette fillings. Surprisingly, I couldn't find one. I did, however, find various croquette recipes on various sites. I decided to follow Mark Bittman's Spanish Chicken Croquette recipe as well as create my own based on what I had in my kitchen.

Having a large can of corn in my pantry and being a true believer that corn goes with just about anything, I added corn to Mark Bitten's recipe. It was delicious! Eaten fresh off the stove, the crispy Panco breadcrumb crust just perfectly matched the creamy bechamel chicken filling with bits of sweet corn, yum yum yum.

Mark Bittman's Spanish Croquettes

Put two small whole, skin-on chicken legs into a pot with a carrot, half an onion, half a clove of garlic and two inches of celery, all roughly chopped. Add fresh parsley, a bay leaf, a few peppercorns and some salt. Cover with water, bring to the boil and lower the heat to a simmer — the liquid should still be gently bubbling. Simmer for 30 minutes or so, until the chicken is tender, and let everything cool in the pot.
Make a thick béchamel sauce: finely mince a tiny onion or a shallot, to yield two or three tablespoons. Melt four tablespoons butter in a small saucepan and sweat the onion over low heat for three or four minutes until soft. Whisk in four tablespoons flour (or 4-1/2 if you want the croquettes to be easier to handle if not quite as oozy) and cook for around five minutes — don’t brown this roux. Now gradually whisk in 3/4 cup each of whole milk and chicken broth (from cooking the chicken legs).Simmer over very low heat for about ten minutes, frequently stirring/scraping with a rubber spatula or a whisk — it will be quite thick and smooth. Add salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste.
Meanwhile, pull the meat off the chicken legs, discarding bones, skin and tough connective tissue. Shred it with your fingers (which will enable you to detect and get rid of any bits of kneecap or tendon), then chop fairly fine with a knife. You could just chop it up, but you want that somewhat fibrous, shredded texture. Cool, cover and place in the refrigerator to solidify, a process that can be sped up up by using a shallow dish rather than a deep container.
When it is cold and quite solid, line a tray or plate with waxed paper and form 16 two-tablespoon balls of the mixture. Put this in the fridge while you prepare three bowls: one with some flour for dredging; one with a beaten egg; and one with plenty of crumbs, I used Panko. With your hands, roll each ball into a rough cylinder, then run it in turn through the flour, the egg and the crumbs. Leave aside while you heat a good two inches of neutral oil (possibly supplemented with some olive oil for flavor ) to between 325 and 350 degrees Farhrenheit — but no higher than that: you don’t want them to brown too much before they’re heated through.
Fry, in batches depending on the size of your pan, for about five minutes, turning once or twice to ensure even browning. Drain on paper towels and transfer to a platter.

My improvised Potato Croquettes

I decided to make a mixture of potatoes boiled then mashed, mixed with some hot milk, canned corn and generous heaps of shredded mozarella cheese.
I followed the same procedure of rolling them into balls and dipping them into flour mixture, followed by the beaten egg mixture and then the breadcrumbs.
It was good but definitely not as good as the Chicken Croquettes. Pretty hard to compete with the bechamel sauce, but still tasty nevertheless. I think I'll try the authentic Japanese style next time of mixing in sauted onions and ground beef into the potato mixture.
I also want to try Mark Bittman's Croquette recipe with sauteed shitake mushrooms instead of shredded chicken. Or perhaps boiled broccoli or cauliflower instead? I also want to try doing a potato croquette with asparagus and pancetta. Or what about a sweet potato croquette instead of potatoes?
Aaagh, the world of deep fried goodness is an exciting one I can't way to experiment with different combinations.

Nikujaga - Beef and Potatoes Stew

Last night I decided to make Nikujaga, a classic comfort Japanese stew of beef and potatoes. Using sukiyaki beef that I had in the freezer, I followed a recipe I found on, a great source for Japanese home cooking. The potatoes came out sweet and golden from having absorbed the sweet sauce it was braised in and the thinly sliced sukiyaki beef practically melted into the stew along with the carmelized onions.
I ate it with white rice, with the fork tender potatoes falling apart easily and the delicious sauce being poured all over the rice. It tasted even better when I ate it today.
900 g / 2 lbs of potatoes. Use boiling potatoes for a firmer texture, and baking potatoes if you want it rather crumbly and mushy.
200g / 6 oz thinly slice beef or pork. "Minute steak" is fine, or just cut up a thin cutlet.
1 medium onion
A small piece of fresh ginger
about 4-5 cups of
dashi soup stock (I used beef stock instead)
6 Tbs sugar
3 Tbs sake, or sweet sherry (I didn't have any sake so I used rice wine instead)
3 Tbs soy sauce
1 Tbs mirin (or just add another Tbs. of sake or the rice wine and a bit more sugar)
vegetable oil
1 tsp dark sesame oil
Some chopped green onions for garnish
Peel and cut up the potatoes.
Roughly chop up the meat.
Slice the onion.
Chop the ginger finely.
Sauté the onion and ginger in some oil. Add the meat and sauté till browned.
Add the potatoes and sauté briefly.
Add enough dashi stock to cover.
Add the sugar, sake, mirin and soy sauce. Add the sesame oil.
Bring to a boil, then put a pot lid that's smaller than the pot you're using directly on top of the potatoes.
Simmer over medium-low heat, until the liquid is much reduced and the potatoes are tender, and infused with a sort of golden color.
Sprinkle with the green onions and toss around in the pan.
Serve immedately.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Polvoron-Cum-Peanut Butter Cookies

I've been thinking about what to do with the leftover ingredients from my birthday brunch for. A big part of my brunch menu was a do-it-yourself smorgasbord of pancake and french toast toppings. So I've been debating whether to turn the leftover chocolate chips into muffins, or cookies, or perhaps something with the honey and sliced bananas, or the whole jar of peanut butter I have left. So after scouring the internet for recipe ideas, while at the same time discovering new food blogs along the way, I settled on a peanut butter cookie recipe from The writeup said that it won rave reviews from everyone who had tried it and after making it myself today, I have to say that it was definitely a good choice.

Now why and how polvorn-cum-peanut butter cookies? Well, it was a result of my tweaking of the recipe both intentionally and not. I used chocolate chips instead of peanut butter chips, an excellent decision. I didn't have any vannila essence lying around either so I omitted that. I also didn't bother sprinkling sugar on top because I found the batter sweet enough. The result was a truly delicious peanut butter chocolate chip cookie with a powdery texture. Similar to that of polvoron, a Philippine candy.
Powdery, you say to yourself, and like polvoron? That's because I completely forgot to add the egg!!! But I swear, the cookies came out tasting great and if you like polvoron then you'll surely love it because one may argue that it's almost like peanut butter polvoron vs. a cookie with a chunkier crunch and powdery texture. Try it, trust me, it's good.

1 & 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup chunky peanut butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar (plus more for sprinkling cookies)*
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 1 cup peanut butter chips

Preheat oven to 350°.

Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
In a large bowl, beat butter and peanut butter until fluffy.

Add sugar and brown sugar, beating until smooth.
Add egg (or NOT!), mixing well. Add milk and vanilla extract. Gradually add flour mixture and mix until combined.
Stir in peanut butter chips (or chocolate chips, in this case).

Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto ungreased baking sheets. Leave several inches between cookies.
Lightly indent the tops of the cookies with a fork. Do not overly flatten cookies. Sprinkle each cookie lightly with sugar.

Bake for 10-12 minutes. Cookies may not look done, but do not overbake. Cool on baking sheets for 1 minute. Transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

On January 11 we celebrated the transferring of my mom's ashes to the crypt just over a year after her death. It was bittersweet occasion for all of us. It was a reminder of her departure and gave us the sense of closure we needed to push us along accepting she is gone.

It was a beautiful and simple celebration that started with mass at Manila Memorial, followed by the blessing of the crypt and transferring her ashes into the crypt. It was a sunny day and we all sat outside in garden chairs listening to the priest talk about his own personal tragedy of losing his father. When you go through the trial of losing someone close to you, you often feel like you are alone in the world. While the world around you continues to turn, you often feel frustrated that the world doesn't stop for you. It's comforting to hear stories from people who have gone through the same challenges, it reminds us all that we really aren't alone at all.
After Manila Memorial, we all headed over to our apartment for lunch. My family and I have always loved Cibo. Every vacation to the Philippines we would stop at the glorietta branch, which is just across our apartment, to have lunch there. It's quick and easy Italian food. No fuss, just simple pastas, yummy dips and our favorite white or red grape juice shake. My dad raised the idea of asking them to cater and it turned out to be the perfect choice. Although we were initially concerned about fitting 30-40 people in our house, with 2 tables for 10 inside, 1 table for 10 in the balcony along with several cafe tables and cocktail tables sprinkled around it turned out to be perfect with more than enough room.

Cibo's buffet spread was delicious. From a delicious truffle pasta to rosemary garlic beef, thinly sliced, to deep fried stuffed zucchini flowers, everything was presented beautifully and certainly satisfied everyone's appetite. The flowers they provided were beautiful, all white with just a hint of green here and there. My mom always loved arranging flowers and with her excellent eye for color and design, people were always impressed. We wanted to make sure that the flowers would not disappoint her and Cibo certainly rose to the challenge.
The party was filled with family and friends who were close to my mom. We were especially touched that our family friends, the Lais, flew all the way from Vancouver to celebrate the occasion with us. Karla's boyfriend Kendrick flew in from Hong Kong as well. All in all, it was a great gathering, with the wind blowing a cool breeze throughout the apartment. My mom always loved throwing parties, she loved preparing the food, planning the menu, picking the color scheme for the flowers, table cloth and plates. Arranging the buffet table complete with candles and decorative accessories depending on the occasion. I think she would have been thrilled with this one.

Thursday, January 22, 2009


I know know, where have I been. Sorry, been back at work. Scroll down, see the mind museum post, I love my job, remember? So since I've been back, I've sunk back into the depths of my creative madness at work. I'm back into the swing of things for the Mind Museum. The team and I have been working on the technology gallery which is a mezzanine that hovers over the ground floor where the four main galleries are. The technology gallery showcases human ingenuity, which separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. It is all about what we have done, with what we know.

For example, there is a node in the tech gallery called Who We Are where we showcase the things we value as human beings such as fashion, art, literature and music. In Here To There, we showcase our ability to create transportations that allow us to travel through various spaces - from earth to universe, through the clouds and up above, underground and through the depths of sea. It also showcases the fact that we human beings value speed and efficiency.

We have started to do a model of the tech gallery. There are five nodes that run through the space:
  • How We Live

  • How We Know

  • Who We Are

  • Here To There

  • How Things Work

Our concept is to create these fluid forms that go around the eliptical mezzanine like a ribbon. These ribbons will become the platforms for the content of that node, or the ceiling from which exhibits can be hung, or even seats for consoles and rooms for enclosed exhibits. These ribbons will also intersect strategically where contents overlap for the nodes.
These were our early concepts for the tech gallery. I'll upload photos of the scale model we're working on soon.