Pork Belly Lechon

When I was back home, I constantly reminded myself of my schedule. I may or may not leave so soon, I realized. There was really no fixed date, no pressing matter to attend to.

Then came the invitation for dinner, around a week after Jad’s funeral. We (my friends/classmates) haven’t really had a chance to talk about things out in the open. The situation was a delicate one. But the dinner had to happen. Naturally, I hosted it, and played the part of the cook. It’s a part I like to play because I think cooking for people who matter is on the list of things that feed my soul.

I didn’t want it to be complicated. My dinners have never tried to be uptight and I want it to stay that way. I love my people, and maybe that helps.

And I love pork. Strokes of brilliance on this blog have always involved pork, one way or the other. When I was thinking about what to prepare for dinner, a glorious way to feast on pork was on my mind.

And this, my friends, is glorious (if I do say so myself).
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Porchetta was on my mind when I was preparing my list. I’ve always wanted to make it, and I did get a chance to witness how it’s done when I was in school. But I also found myself craving for lechon while I was home. Mom would relent and come home with a small package of chopped up pig for me. That may have happened more than once.

I thought about taking a nice slab of pork belly and drowning it in the typical lechon aromatics (minus the calamansi because I don’t like it). Roasting it on low for a few hours makes it dastardly fork-tender, and during the last hour of baking, cranking the heat up will yield a crackling so divine.

The result blew me away. There is no breakthrough, no secret technique, no new flavor. I just made damn good lechon, and that for me, was a new notch in my belt. And if I’m being corny here, I’d like to call it “pinoychetta”. I’m also clever like that.
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All in all, I had two more attempts just to prove the first one wasn’t a fluke. The first one was a trial-run (my mom and her office mates were the lucky ones). The second was for the dinner, and the last was the big bang before I left.

The dinner itself was great. They loved the pork. Because they’re my friends, naturally they had to sing praises.
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They were fed well, we talked until we had no more stories to tell, and one of my friends, Jam, received a birthday cake a week early. It was a heavy chocolate cake with coffee buttercream, studded with shards of almond praline. I didn’t bring my piping tips so I was rubbish with the rosettes, but they liked it.

It was also passed around for posterity and the July babies went nuts. Somehow bearing the brunt of loss seemed lighter, even just for a night. I haven’t laughed so hard in a while.

So this pork is a thing of beauty. It’s not something you would whip up on a weeknight (but I’m not stopping you!). Reserve a weekend. Prepare this on Saturday, wake up early on Sunday to start roasting it. By lunchtime, you feast and the next day, you fast.
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Roasted Pork Belly “Lechon”

  • 1.5 kg pork belly slab, skin on
  • 3 whole garlic bulbs, peeled and roughly chopped
  • ½ cup oregano leaves, washed then chopped
  • 3 red onions, peeled and chopped
  • around 4 – 5 lemongrass stalks, sliced
  • the zest from 1 lemon
  • juice from 1 lemon
  • a little over 1/8 cup salt, plus more for an even rub around the pork
  • 4 tablespoons crushed black pepper

Combine all the aromatics in a bowl and mix well. Lightly mash everything together with the back of a spoon. Alternatively, use a food processor to bring everything together with only around 2-3 pulses.

With the skin side down, rub the mixture all over the meat. Roll the slab, carefully invert the meat and secure it with butcher’s twine (and lemongrass leaves, like what I did). It’s okay if there are a few pieces of herbs that fall off, you can place it back later. Rub coarse salt all over the meat, including the skin. With a paring knife or fork, poke the skin of the meat. This will ensure a nice crackling. Transfer it to a roasting fitted with a rack and the bottom lined with foil. Place it in the refrigerator to chill overnight. This will dry the skin, which helps the crackling form.
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variation: this will easily feed two – three

Preheat the oven to 160 C. Just to be sure, pat the skin of the pork dry with a paper towel. Roast the pork for 5 hours. Afterwards, increase the temperature to 220 C, and allow the pork’s crackling to form. This will take another 30 minutes to an hour. When done, remove from the oven and allow to cool a bit before slicing. Enjoy!
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Matcha truffles

“I don’t like green tea, it tastes like grass”
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I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that from people when I talk about matcha or green tea. I love the flavour, but apparently it’s an acquired taste. To each his own, and that’s coming from someone who hates liver. I get it.

But to be with friends who appreciate just how special the clean, earthy flavor of matcha can be, conversations are just great. It’s that moment when the face instantly lights up, and you could go on and on about how good this matcha latte is or how in-your-face the ice cream can be. The magic also happens at first taste, when you take it all in. Glorious seconds of uninterrupted silence, and it’s all you need to speak volumes.
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I need to have my matcha fix at least once a week, and that’s usually in the company of Yedy and Eugene. Eugene enjoys chocolate more than green ambrosia, while Yedy shares my insane enthusiasm. There was this one time at a food bazaar where this really nice ice cream purveyor told us that she had a tub of matcha ice cream reserved for someone else, and that the flavor was still being developed. The moment she mentioned “matcha”, we jumped like the energizer bunny. Or maybe we looked like rabid dogs. Anyway, our enthusiasm compelled her to give us a free scoop. We were impressed.
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Ever since I made the truffles, it was only natural for me to create a batch with matcha. It just made sense. It follows the same recipe for white chocolate truffles, but a generous helping of matcha powder makes all the difference.

It doesn’t make sense for me to just add a pinch of powder. Matcha is basically powdered green tea leaves, so I wanted the truffles to taste like green tea and then some.  And pistachios could do no wrong in my eyes, and I’ll always find a way to use it. It becomes a great foil. But the star is the full-bodied matcha.
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What I have right now is just a note, a lyric, a hymn to the collective anthem we all share. But just the same, this goes out to you and to all of us kindred spirits who gather in the name of all things matcha. We are great people, and we can make it through anything.

Matcha truffles

makes around 30 pieces

  • 115 grams whipping cream
  • 350 grams good quality or couverture white chocolate, chopped + around 150-200 grams more for tempering and dipping
  • 2 vanilla bean pods, seeds scraped
  • 3 – 4 tablespoons good quality matcha powder, or more to taste
  • chopped pistachio (roasted and peeled), as needed

In separate bowls, scale each kind of chocolate. Set aside. In a pot, combine vanilla seeds and cream. When it is hot, add the matcha powder and combine well. Bring to a boil. Add the cream to the chocolate and stir with a heat-proof spatula until it has melted. You can also place the bowl over a water bath to hasten the melting. Taste the mixture, and you may add more pwder at this point to taste. When it’s smooth, allow it to chill in the fridge for 30 minutes to an hour, or until the ganache has thickened, but is still malleable.

Portion around 8-10 grams of chocolate and with clean/gloved hands, shape each piece into a rough ball. When it starts to melt too fast and you’re not yet done shaping, it’s best to pop the mixture back into the fridge to chill and harden a bit. It’s  best to work in a cool room.

Prepare all the ingredients for coating: the coating chocolate and the chopped nuts. Here is a tutorial on how to temper white chocolate. Create an organised assembly line starting with the chocolate balls, the tempered chocolate and lastly, the nuts. Place a tray or plate at the end of the line to place all the finished pieces.

Picking up the balls with a fork (don’t stab it!), dip it into the melted chocolate and allow the excess to drip. Coat it next with the nuts. What I do it I just plop it into the bowl of nuts and agitate the bowl so the nuts swirl around the truffle. Chill the finished products in the fridge.

White Chocolate and Lemon Curd Tart + Candied Lemons

I’d like to live by the sea one day. I imagine a cloudy morning and I’m walking barefoot by the shore with sand in between the toes. The silent waves push and pull the sand away. I look out towards the horizon and I’m at peace.

When I was in college I attended this workshop organised by our university’s local peace institute. One by one, each of us from our small group would share his/her idea of peace. And that was my answer, brief but really hopeful. I was going through a rough patch during that time. And I would want nothing else than to escape and leave all worries behind. We’ve all been slaves to our hedonistic daydreams, maybe for a minute, maybe for a lot longer.

What I said was true, I’d like to live by the sea one day. And maybe I could throw in a nice house to go with the view. But more than anything else I’d like to divest myself of worldly problems. The assumption is by the time I do manage to save up for that dream, I’ve already swum with the sharks, climbed rugged mountains and danced on top of hot coals.

And almost every day I’d like to churn out beauties like these.
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I’ll share the recipe for the walnut and salted caramel tart soon. But for now, let’s feast:
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White Chocolate and Lemon Curd Tart with Candied Lemons

Not everyone can stand, let alone enjoy white chocolate per se. But when it’s tempered with a contrast in flavour, it becomes bearable, more often very very delicious, with the right amount of sweet and tart notes.

The recipe for the tart crust was adapted from Food Magazine’s April 2013 dessert issue – the vodka pie crust by Ginny Roces de Guzman. I have her cookbook, Bake Me A Cake, and I think it’s a beautiful labor of love. The lemon curd is just a standard recipe I got here.

  • 1 vodka crust
  • 1 recipe lemon curd (you will have leftover curd, but it’s versatile enough to be a fridge staple!)
  • White chocolate ganache
  • Candied lemons (you can do this ahead of time)

Make the white chocolate ganache

  • 300 grams good quality white chocolate, chopped
  • 150 grams whipped cream
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  1. In a pot, heat the vanilla and cream to a boil.
  2. In a heatproof bowl, combine the white chocolate and the hot cream. With a spatula, mix everything together until the chocolate has melted and it’s smooth.
  3. If there are still bits and pieces, you may need to place the bowl over a water bath, or microwave it for 10-second intervals until smooth. Set aside when done.

Make the crust (this recipe produces two crusts. You only need one for the tart, save the other one for inevitable use)

  • 1/4 cup vodka
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups cold butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  1. Combine vodka and water and put into the freezer.
  2. In a bowl, mix 1 1/2 cups flour, salt and sugar. With a pastry blender, cut in the butter into grain-sized pieces. When the mixture gets a little pasty, add the remaining 1 cup flour.
  3. Sprinkle vodka water on the flour mixture. Use a rubber scraper to press and mix until it comes together to form a dough.
  4. Divide the dough in half. Pat each into a disc. Cover with plastic wrap  and store in the refrigerator until ready to use.
  5. When ready to use, let the dough rest on the counter so it will be easier to handle.
  6. Preheat the oven to 400 F/200 C.
  7. Lightly flour your workbench and rolling pin. Roll out the crust to fit a 9-inch tart pan. Carefully transfer to the pan.
  8. With a fork, poke the crust. This will prevent it from being too puffy. Cover the crust with aluminium foil and add rice or pie weights.
  9. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, then lower the temperature to 375 F and continue to bake for 20 – 30 minutes. Let cool.

Make the candied lemons

  • 2 lemons, sliced thinly, seeds carefully removed
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/8 cup water
  • enough water to cook the slices in a small or medium-sized pot
  1. Heat water to a boil and lower the heat to a gentle simmer.
  2. Add the lemon slices and allow to cook for 30 minutes.
  3. Combine water and sugar in a nonstick pan. Over medium heat, melt the sugar mixture until it becomes clear and syrup-like. Carefully arrange the slices evenly on the pan. Reduce the heat to very low.
  4. Allow the slices to cook and the sugar mixture to slowly caramelise. The slices have to take on the nice amber colour of the caramel. Be careful not to burn the sugar mixture. This will take around 30 minutes to an hour.
  5. Remove from the pan and allow to cool on a tray lined with nonstick paper.

Combine everything:

  1. Remove the crust from the tart pan and onto a plate or cake board.
  2. Spread a thin layer of curd over the crust.
  3. Slowly pour the ganache over the curd.
  4. Top with candied lemons.
  5. Chill in the refrigerator until the ganache has set.

Dark and White Chocolate Truffles

For as long as I could remember, dark chocolate has always been my poison of choice. It has a rich, complex and versatile flavour that makes me a very happy child. I’ve learned to develop my sweet tooth since I started baking. Now more than ever, I need dessert to cap off a meal, or probably even start it. Or it could be a meal in itself, who am I to complain? And a dessert with dark chocolate will always be a runaway favourite. Hands down.
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But with truffles, let’s make an exception. I’m a truffle pig that way. Bite-sized spheres of bliss, truffles are. Right now there’s a little container of truffles on my desk, calling out to me. People who know me, know that I have this weird mannerism of eating/nibbling impulsively, throwing caution to the wind. Whether it’s that singular chicken leg bone, a bag of Cheetos, or that measly petri dish filled with gravy, consider them done and devoured when I’m at the table.
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So the dilemma is how to avoid the truffles calling out to me right now. Okay, there’s no need to be overly dramatic, Gio. There’s no problem. Just eat the damn truffles already. /End internal conversation

My knees go weak for truffles. And erring on the side of danger here, but I see no reason why I can’t finish a plate of white chocolate truffles all by my lonesome. Yes, truffles make me do strange and dangerous things. The darks will always be there, and they’ll always be awesome. I coated them with toasted hazelnuts and pistachios, and it makes a great contrast in texture.
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But the whites are something else. Maybe it’s the pistachios. Maybe I attack them with the same gusto as I devour pork fat. Or maybe they’re just so good, there’s no need to beat around the bush.

Hello there, gorgeous.
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Simple Dark and White Chocolate Truffles

makes around 30 pieces of each kind

  • 115 grams whipping cream (115 grams for each kind of chocolate)
  • 300 grams good quality or couverture bittersweet chocolate, chopped + around 150-200 grams more for tempering and dipping
  • 350 grams good quality or couverture white chocolate, chopped + around 150-200 grams more for tempering and dipping
  • 2 vanilla bean pods, seeds scraped
  • chopped pistachio and hazelnuts (roasted and peeled), as needed

In separate bowls, scale each kind of chocolate. Set aside. In a pot, combine vanilla seeds and cream, and bring to a boil. Add the cream to the chocolate and stir with a heat-proof spatula until it has melted. You can also place the bowl over a water bath to hasten the melting. When it’s smooth, allow it to chill in the fridge for 30 minutes to an hour, or until the ganache has thickened, but is still malleable.

Portion around 8-10 grams of chocolate and with clean/gloved hands, shape each piece into a rough ball. When it starts to melt too fast and you’re not yet done shaping, it’s best to pop the mixture back into the fridge to chill and harden a bit. It’s  best to work in a cool room.

Prepare all the ingredients for coating: the coating chocolate and the chopped nuts. Here are tutorials on how to temper dark and white chocolate. Create an organised assembly line starting with the chocolate balls, the tempered chocolate and lastly, the nuts. Place a tray or plate at the end of the line to place all the finished pieces.

Picking up the balls with a fork (don’t stab it!), dip it into the melted chocolate and allow the excess to drip. Coat it next with the nuts. What I do it I just plop it into the bowl of nuts and agitate the bowl so the nuts swirl around the truffle. Chill the finished products in the fridge.

Tinapa, Tomato and Truffle Linguine

I know, I know, sue me for fading into relative obscurity every now and then. It hasn’t been easy, you know, lounging and purging myself of all worldly pleasures before I dive into my internship. Yes, that was the plan – give myself a month to addle around, before all focus shifts to making sure that I survive this career. (Which reminds me! A year ago today, I wrote this, and it has made all the difference. I’m amazed)

But apparently the universe has its own time-table, and a string of events made my vacation drag on a longer than I intended it to be. Jad happened, among other things. You might be wondering how I’m holding up. It’s been more than a month now. It still hurts, my friends and I are still reeling from what happened. But we find ways to move along, which, I think, is vastly different from moving on. Life waits for no one.

So, I’m in a celebratory mood right now. For almost a year now I’ve been religiously going to the gym, and it has paid off. When I started I was at 21% body fat, a little over the normal for me. Then it went down to 17%, and just this morning after a session with my trainer I’m at 14%!

I’ve always struggled with my weight. I didn’t feel good and I didn’t like how I looked. Things got better in college, but it was still a battle of fluctuations.

It was only last year that I decided to hit the gym and keep the weight off. That was the initial goal, but it eventually evolved from a mission of pure vanity to simply self-improvement. It’s about feeling good by feeling strong, surpassing old goals and creating new ones and always challenging yourself. That mindset isn’t too farfetched, and is actually pretty helpful considering the industry I want to dive right into.

And I choose to celebrate this little victory by making really good pasta. Yes. Yes. Yes.
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It has all the good stuff: linguine, shiitake and button mushrooms, olive oil, garlic and onions, dried tomatoes, a little bit of pesto, smoked tinapa/milkfish. For absolutely good measure, a nice little glug of truffle oil.

I had that for lunch and it was a tasty little thing. What you have before you is not much, and that’s because I ate most of it already. I was too eager to dig right in.
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Tinapa, Tomato and Truffle Linguine

serves 2

  • 80 – 90 grams linguine
  • 1 piece smoked fish/tinapa, flaked
  • 1 cup shiitake mushrooms, sliced
  • ½ cup button mushrooms, sliced
  • ¼ cup sundried tomatoes (sold in a jar with oil)
  • 2 tablespoons of oil from the bottled sundried tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon pesto
  • half a garlic bulb, peeled and minced
  • 1 red onion, peeled and sliced
  • olive oil, as needed

In a medium sized pot, boil pasta in salty water according to package instructions, reserve around 1/8 cup of the starchy water.

In the same pot, add enough olive oil to lightly coat the bottom of the pot. Add the oil from the tomatoes. When it’s hot enough, add the garlic and onions and saute until fragrant. Add the tinapa, tomatoes and pesto. Season according to taste. Mix well and add the mushrooms. Cook until the mushrooms are tender. Add the pasta water and the pasta. Mix everything together and transfer to a plate. Drizzle with parmesan cheese and truffle oil. Serve and enjoy!

Simple pleasures

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I don’t make bread often, and it’s only when I’m home that I get full reign. Making it made me appreciate just how amazing freshly baked, homemade, handmade baked is. As soon as it’s done, I let it cool for only a little bit. I then scramble for minced garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper and chili flakes – my dip of choice, with no balsamic vinegar. I heat all of that a bit, just so the flavors infuse.
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I slice through the bread, the exterior is hot and crusty. Steam billows out, it’s definitely fresh. The inside is pillow-like, riddled with holes – just right.

I pick up a crusty slice, dip it in the garlic oil, take a bite and just allow a moment of silence to sink in. Reverence is at play here. There is joy to be had from eating something made from scratch in all its humanity. It’s simple. It’s good.

You have to eat and enjoy bread while it’s still warm and crusty. Now more than ever I understand.
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I’ve been hit with the realization that there are certain things and people in this world, like good bread, that are just too good to last forever.
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Life is beautifully and painfully short. Although it’s painful to know that Jad’s life was abruptly and unjustly halted, I can find comfort in the idea that he was in a good place in his life when he died. He realized what fulfilled his days, and until the last minute, he was chasing his happiness.

Let’s make bread while we still can.

Mini walnut baguettes

makes 15 – 16 pieces

adapted from King Arthur Flour’s baguette recipe

For the starter:

  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon instant dry yeast
  • 1 cup bread flour

For the dough:

  • 1 teaspoon instant dry yeast
  • 1 cup to 1 1/4 cup lukewarm water
  • 1 starter recipe
  • 3 1/2 cups bread flour
  • 1 – 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnutes
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

In a medium-sized container, combine all the ingredients for the starter and mix. Allow it to rise and bubble at room temperature for 14 hours. 

When ready to make the bread, to the starter, add in the water, olive oil and brown sugar. Mix together.

In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients for the dough. Make a well at the center and add the starter mixture. Mix together. If you’re using an electric mixer, handle it with the dough hook. Otherwise, knead it by hand, until it starts to become smooth. Let the dough rest in a generously floured bowl for 20 minutes. Resting it will relax the gluten more, hence cuts down on fermentation time later. Afterwards, knead until dough is smooth and supple. Place the dough back into the bowl and allow it to rise for 45 minutes, or until the dough feels airy when lightly poked (it may be less than 45 minutes). Afterwards, to remove some of the gas that has formed, “fold” the dough by bringing/folding the top part to the center, then doing the same with the sides, then folding the top part towards and over the bottom. Let the dough ferment for another 30 minutes.

When done and if you’re going to add the nuts, knead it now then press down on the dough, and roll it like a log. Divide it into around 40-gram pieces. Shape each piece into a rough ball and let it rest for 5 to 10 minutes. Then shape each piece into a roll by flattening the ball, folding the bottom part towards the center, then doing the same with the top part, then finally folding the top over the bottom. Seal the seam by flattening it with your palm. Then roll it into a tapered log, with both edges slightly slimmer than the center. Transfer it to a baking sheet with a silicone parchment. Lightly dust each piece with flour. Allow it to rise for 20 to 30 minutes. It’s best to place them in the oven when they’re not completely proofed, because they rise more in the oven. While the bread is rising, preheat the oven to 220 C.

With a sharp paring knife, diagonally slash (“score”) each log 3 times (because baguettes have odd numbered slashes). Lightly dust with flour again, then place it in the oven. Prepare an aluminum tray with some water and place it below the rack where you’re going to place the baguette. The steam with help the bread rise. My oven came with a detachable tray placed at the bottom of the oven that’s supposed to catch drippings, so I used that. As soon as I placed the trays of bread in the oven, I poured water on the tray and that became my steam source.

Bake for 25 – 30 minutes or until a nice golden color is achieved. 

I wish I could be there

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It’s the day after Mother’s Day and as I’m writing this I’m hoping that the courier doesn’t screw up more than it already has. Mom hasn’t received her package yet and right now the timing (and the drama) is off. (Edit: the package arrived and apparently reduced mom to a puddle of tears. What was the gift? A simple handwritten letter)

The last time I was with the family was when I went home for the Easter holidays more than a month ago. Suffice to say I went a little crazy, baking almost everyday. The macarons I wrote about were one of the things I churned out (which reminds me, I’m tinkering with the next installment to that post!). To be honest I wasn’t all that keen to go home. I kept on thinking that I need to sensitize myself to the separation, as depressing as it sounds. But that week off turned out to be one of the best vacation weeks I’ve ever had, and by the time I had to be whisked off to the airport, I was a hot mess. I’ve never been that sad to leave home.
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But to dwell on how much abuse my oven received makes things less morose. To think about how much I enjoyed making sans rival makes things a lot better.

I always though making sans rival was unattainable. But I always enjoy eating the layers of crunchy-chewy meringue, with buttercream sandwiched in between, all dressed in a rich velvet layer of more buttercream. That was before I went to school so basically I thought a lot of baked goods seemed impossible to make by my lonesome. That was then, this is now. And during the course of the week I was able to make five, a pretty awesome feat by my standards.

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Right now I’m at a place where I can say that anything baked isn’t impossible to make. This one is no exception. Making it wasn’t a breeze of course – time and patience (things I feel I lack) are the key elements here. It’s one of those desserts that have components made separately and then put together to make one solid piece of goodness.

This is a nod to my mom, who is (a cheesy comparison coming up) really like sans rival. She’s a crowd favorite and everyone instantly likes her, she’s both sturdy and fragile (sometimes at the same time), and although on the outside she seems to be all butter, you’ll see that she’s made up of so much more than that. She’s never typical.

Last year when I was still home we had this silly moment together where her favorite song was playing on the radio and she just took my hand and whirled me around the kitchen. It was awkward, I was embarrassed, mortified…and strangely enough right now I wish I could do it all over again.
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Coffee Buttercream Sans Rival

serves around 8

This recipe is good enough to make three rectangular sheets that could fit in a half-sheet tray (18 by 13 inches). I decided to pipe the meringue into rounds instead of rectangles, but I still used a sheet tray lined with a silicone mat that measures 11 5/8 by 16 ½ inches. Two rounds fit in the silicone mat so I worked in batches. Alternatively, you can also use cake pans, greased, lined with parchment, greased again, and floured.

  • 180 grams clean egg whites
  • a pinch of cream of tartar
  • 170 grams granulated sugar
  • 10 grams all-purpose flour
  • 50 grams granulated sugar (for the flour and nut mixture)
  • 60 grams cashew nuts, processed/chopped into very small pieces
  • additional cashew nuts for decoration

Whip the egg whites and cream of tartar until soft peaks. Gradually add the sugar and whip until stiff.Combine the sugar, flour and nuts and fold it into the meringue, working in 3 additions. Use a piping bag to pipe the mixture onto the pan, using a spiral motion to create equal circles. Bake at 350 F/180 C for 30 – 45 minutes or until golden brown. Allow to cool at room temperature.

Coffee Buttercream

recipe adapted from Memories of Philippine Kitchens by Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan

  • 7 egg yolks
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 454 grams/1 pound unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 6 tablespoons coffee powder (or more if a stronger flavor is desired)

Beat the yolks and sugar using an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, until it becomes light and lemon-colored. Warm the heavy cream in a large saucepan, until bubbles appear around the sides. Whisk the heavy cream into the yolks and return it to the saucepan. Stir over low heat until thick, around 10 – 12 minutes. Be careful not to let it boil or else it will curdle. Remove from heat, transfer to a large bowl (or the bowl of an electric mixer) and let it cool.

You can whisk the buttercream by hand or use an electric mixer, with the paddle attachment. Either way, add the butter into the cooled custard bit by bit, beating the pieces in until completely absorbed before adding in the next. Add the vanilla extract. When all the butter has been incorporated and the mixture is smooth, you can set aside 1/3 of the buttercream, and mix in the coffee powder into the remaining 2/3. Set aside until ready to use.

Assemble: place one layer of meringue on a plate or cake board. Using a straight or offset spatula, spread an even but thin layer of buttercream on it, and top with the second layer. Repeat, then top with the third layer. Spread the buttercream on top, and along the sides. When the coating is generous and even, you can pipe decorative rosettes using the regular buttercream on top. If the surrounding temperature is a bit warm the buttercream might soften too much for you to achieve good, sturdy piping. At this point you can let the mixture rest in the fridge, or to speed up the process, place it in the freezer for a couple of minutes.

Coat the sides and sprinkle the top with the chopped cashew nuts. When coating the sides, get a handful of the chopped nuts and lightly pat the side making sure that the nuts stick to the buttercream. The excess will fall of and you can clean it up when you’re done decorating.

Place it in the refrigerator or freezer until ready to serve.

Macaron Days (Part 1)

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It’s a blazing hot Saturday here in Manila. It’s the kind of heat that precludes all intentions of going outside to where it’s scorching. Ah, the problems of living in a country with four seasons (hot, very hot, rainy, oh look there’s a typhoon). So here I am doing myself a favor and after a long while, updating! I’m not going to whine about the weather because even if it feels like I’ve been living under a rock, I’ve had a pretty stellar week.

We had a week off from school to give way to the Easter holidays, and I was in a quandary whether I should go home or not. By “go home” I mean visit my family in Zamboanga. I told myself that I should go home less often, just to sensitize myself. But I caved in after being prodded by my parents. Honestly, I can’t really say no to home, can I?

And I’m glad I caved in because the chance to use an oven and bake again sent me in a frenzy. It was no vacation by all means. Every day I was in the kitchen, mixing, whisking, piping, rolling and baking. I didn’t really give myself a lot of room to breathe. I’m not complaining though, because I was amazed at how productive I was. Amazed.

I began my vacation with a few achievable goals in mind: macarons, meringue, pate a choux, puff pastry.

First, I just had to make macarons because when we made it in school I was really happy with the results and it wasn’t “that” hard as long as I observed a few pressure points. I’ll be talking about macarons for here on out.

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I’m not an authority on the matter, though! Simply think of this as an account of somebody who tried his hardest, in the most obsessive way possible, to make a macaron – failures and all.

There are a lot of macaron recipes online, with varying techniques and nuances in ingredients. There’s really no “right” or “wrong” method. Just choose one and go from there. If it didn’t yield the results you wanted, modify, adapt and try again. There’s no shame in that.

This recipe is a bit lengthy but it’s hard not to be descriptive when you’re talking about making a macaron.

French Macarons with Chocolate Ganache and Marmalade

  • 60g powdered almonds
  • 120g powdered sugar
  • 60g egg whites
  • 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
  • 45g granulated sugar
  • food coloring of your choice

All I had to do was to blitz the sliced almonds in a food processor/blender until it has become fine powder. To make sure the consistency is good, I passed it through a fine strainer and I processed the big pieces that were left. I didn’t toast the almonds in the oven before I processed it. (My chef instructor told me I shouldn’t have skipped that step so I could have removed the excess moisture in the almonds)

I then mixed the almond meal with the powdered sugar, and then passed it through a strainer again. It’s not so much obsessive as it is necessary to remove the large lumps of sugar. My instructor also told me I could go the extra mile and process the sugar-almond mixture again, which I didn’t do. Is this part necessary? If I would get the chance to make more macarons, I would have done this.

Whisking the egg whites is also another crucial step. Whisking incorporates air into the whites causing it to become white and stiff. Two things can go wrong: either it won’t rise to medium-stiff peaks OR it will be overdone and resemble shampoo foam which is kind of gross. In any case, it is crucial that the egg whites are clean, free from fat in the form of traces of yolk.

I didn’t have a stand mixer so I had to use muscle power and elbow grease to manually whip the whites. This part is physically taxing but it gets the job done. I whisked the egg whites until medium peak. Then I added the sugar and whisked until stiff. Medium peaks is the stage when the whites are whisked until they form peaks whose tips droop. The peaks when stiff are sharp, pointy and well, stiff.

Now that you have your meringue and almond-sugar mixture ready, it’s now time to fold the two together. Folding is more gentle than mixing, and I used my rubber scraper to do this. Folding requires a “lifting” action that gently covers the meringue over the almonds and so on. When it’s folded together, add a drop of food coloring, and fold to distribute. Add more until the desired color is achieved. When you lift the mixture using the rubber scraper, it has to fall in a thick stream, not in clumps. If it’s still clumpy, add a little bit (a drop or two) of egg white and fold again.

I then transferred the mixture to a pastry bag with a round tip (#12), piped it as big as a 5 peso coin and left 2 inches of space in between mounds because it will still spread. It’s important that you allow the macaron to dry and form a skin. This is incredibly temperamental because it depends of the humidity and temperature of the area, which affects the drying time. What worked best for me was to leave the tray in an air conditioned room for two – three hours, or until a skin is felt on the surface when “lightly” felt/poked by the finger.  I had one tray dry at room temperature, roughly the same time length of time received by the ones in the air conditioned room. They also cracked.

The cracked macarons weren’t pretty at all. I probably set the oven temperature too high. They cracked at 180 C. When I set the next batch to bake at around 140 – 150C, then came out just fine, feet and all! I baked them for about 12 – 15 minutes, until they look dry.

The piped a ring of chocolate ganache and filled the center with orange marmalade because the flavor pairing just works so well.
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Tune in for more macaron madness soon. I promise thing will get better, and cuter if I do say so myself.

My Foodgasm Top 5

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From the good people of the UP Economics Society comes Foodgasm 2, an annual event that brings together up-and-coming food businesses under one roof to battle it out and win mass approval and bragging rights. All those who bought tickets to the event were all given a score sheet so they could rate each and every food item they sample. At the end of the night a winner via vox populi is chosen. Props to those who managed to sample everything, because braving the lines and the crowds was a challenge.
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I appreciated how diverse and vibrant Foodgasm was. It played to the vibe of their venue (Mercato Centrale) really well. It was casual, energetic and a little spartan in its own right.

Frankly, a lot of the samples, although creative (unusual, out of the box), weren’t “spectacular”. Some fell short in their execution while some fielded items that simply paled in comparison to its competition.

With that being said, I decided to just name Foodgasm’s five highlights – three singular businesses made my cut, three food items deserve one citation, and at one point, it became the battle of the cupcakes. Let the degustation begin.

1. Ping Gu mushroom fries

This was my personal favorite. Organic oyster mushrooms are coated with breading and deep-fried in canola oil. This may not sound like something special but it really was. The crunch of the breading gave way to perfectly cooked meaty mushrooms. Garlic mayo was the dipping sauce of choice, and it was obviously a crowd favorite. “Ping Gu” is Chinese for oyster mushrooms and Ping is also the name of one of the owners. It’s destiny I tell you.
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2. Chocobelly by Carlo‘s Kitchen

The universal love of crunchy pork belly is what probably drew the throngs of people to their stall. You might say it’s pushing the envelope, slathering melted chocolate over crispy fried pork but in the advent of bacon jam, bacon macarons, bacon ice cream and all sorts of crazy concoctions, I’m not really surprised to see and taste the combination.
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With that being said, I liked what I tasted although I think it might be more of an acquired taste, since I’ve met a few people during the event who didn’t get it.

3. Paire’s Ligid (crispy pork appetizer) and Class A (Almond slice followed by a shot of Amaretto Sour)

With the intention of standing out, Paire went the extra mile and introduced two food items during the event. They had an appetizer, the Ligid, which was slightly similar to Carlo’s crunchy belly in taste and texture. And for “dessert” they had the Class A. You’re supposed to eat the almond slice first and while you’re chewing it, down the Amaretto Sour. It was a pleasantly refreshing combination.
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4. “Out-Of-The-Box Effort”: Sophia School Cafe’s Vegetarian Dinuguan & Sweet Baum Cafe’s Baumkuchen

I was perplexed to find out vegetarian dinuguan would be part of the event. Those two words essentially don’t go together but I kept an open mind, and was clearly intrigued. And true enough, it tasted like real dinuguan (blood stew) minus the pork fat, entrails and innards (I’m not a fan of the last two so it’s all good).
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It didn’t stand out as a contender, but the fact that it tasted like honest-to-goodness dinuguan was already a feat in itself. Of course they kept mum about the ingredients but I’m not complaining.

The baumkuchen, introduced by Sweet Baum cafe is intriguing in its own right. Baumkutchen is actually a common dessert in Europe and Japan. German for “tree cake”, slicing a piece reveals visible rings like that of a tree. It’s interesting to know that it’s cooked on a spit (think lechon), and the rings are achieved by brushing a layer of batter on the spit, allowing it to cook and turn golden, and then brushing another layer.
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That in itself is pretty stellar technique. However, the nice people behind Sweet Baum Cafe should have added more variety to their available samples (green tea!) since the one they fielded was a bit dry, and reminded me of a run-of-the-mill chiffon cake you could easily score from your corner bakery.

5. The Peculiar Battle of the Cupcake Cousins

There were three businesses that offered samples of their chocolate cupcakes: Sweet Confections (Triple Chocolate Fudge Cake), Sugar Rush (Chocolate Kiss Cupcake) and The Cupcake Dealer (Black Velvet).

Sweet Confections offered simple chocolate cupcakes frosted in yellow and pink. It was inspired by the show 2 Broke Girls. The main problem with this fact is not everybody watches the show. And that may be a point of confusion for some. Do they use the same recipe? What do the cupcakes have to do with the show in the first place?
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Sugar Rush gave out their version of a chocolate cupcake, studded with chocolate chips and topped with a Hershey’s Kiss. Plain Jane she ain’t. I have to give them props for the detail that went into each cupcake.
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The Cupcake Dealer’s Black Velvet came with a white chocolate frosting. It obviously doesn’t have red food coloring. I was told, not by the ones manning the stall but by my classmate who attended the event that they used carob powder in their mix. Carob is a healthier alternative to chocolate, although I could not verify if it’s actually true that it was used for the cupcakes.
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Strip away the frosting, the frills and the fancy names and what you get are actually three cupcakes that are really quite similar in taste, as if they were cut from the same cloth, er, recipe book. They didn’t taste bad – in fact they were actually moist, and very chocolate-y which is always a good thing. But the point is, it just wasn’t the night of the chocolate cupcake.

There you have it, Foodgasm through the eyes of the HG. It was a night of good food by all means. Some soared more than others. For a full list of participants and their contact information, click here

Parting shot: It was also a nice night to meet other bloggers who share the same crazy obsession with food. A big shout-out to Yedy and Eugene for keeping this little child company!
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Vietnamese-style Caramelized Pork Belly

I just remembered that today is our community’s fiesta back in Zamboanga. Fiestas are what you would imagine them to be: a melange of beautiful chaos, delicious food and no-frills gatherings of both the invited and uninvited. Over the years my family has had our fair share of all of that. There was this one particular time when a man and his little daughter just when inside our home, got a plate and helped himself to the food, while he and his daughter were sitting on the dining room floor. Sure, that was pretty inappropriate but it comes with the territory. Some just wait outside the gate and beg and who are we to deny them of food? It makes me feel sad and awkward that it’s during these moments of celebration that the reality of what we have and what others don’t have sinks in.

Today I was lucky to be able to curb how much I miss fiestas and family. And I also felt really good. The school organized a feeding program in coordination with the local parish. We were able to feed around a hundred kids who were attending catechism sessions. It’s nothing grand, but it works just like a fiesta. Kids were happy and full, and I can take comfort in that. Waking up too early for a Saturday was worth it.

Generosity can be expressed in so many ways. But I’d like to believe that food can best reflect it. I’m no authority (yet) when it comes to this but cooking with love (among other things) can make good food great. I heard that bit on the radio a few days ago when I was on my way to school. It makes sense, really.
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It’s one thing to throw together things from your pantry into a pot and call it experimentation, and it’s another to make sure that the flavors you’re marrying actually go well together. Thinking outside the box is good. By all means it’s something I want to hone, but once in a while, falling back on tried and tested flavors does the trick to satisfy not just the body but the soul.

With this dish, I think I did a little bit of both. Hey, it’s Vietnamese-inspired! I’ve never tried using coconut water to braise pork, but with adobo as my foundation, I knew I was not treading into uncharted waters. Ever since I watched Christine Ha do it on MasterChef, I felt the urge to replicate it because it looked incredible.
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After going through a few recipes, I finally managed to adjust the recipe to suit my preferences. I made this a few Saturdays ago, but if it’s still even possible, the taste still lingers. The coconut water does a great job of softening the pork, and the addition of patis (fish sauce) gives it that familiar salinity that makes it adobo’s peculiar cousin who enjoys indie music. It also made sense to use coconut sugar for that pleasant sweetness. All that was missing was the hard-boiled egg. But it didn’t really matter in the end because the dish already knocks it out of the park with its indulgent taste.

This, my friends, is generosity on a plate.
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Vietnamese-style Caramelized Pork Belly (serves 3 – 4)

  • 500 grams pork belly, cubed
  • 3 – 4 cups coconut water
  • 3 – 4 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons coconut sugar
  • 1 small white onion, sliced
  • 3 – 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • chili oil, to taste
  • cracked black pepper, to taste

In a pot, combine all the ingredients. Bring to a boil over medium heat and reduce it to a simmer. Allow the pork to braise in the liquid for at least an hour, until it is tender. Adjust taste and reduce the liquid to a thick sauce. Remove from heat and serve with rice, hard-boiled egg and salad greens on the side.