These ribs are real

One of the reasons why I think Big Daddy Jay’s is a favorite right off the bat is the in-your-face, unapologetic scent of barbecue that makes the residential area where it’s at even more homey. It’s a welcome respite, a stone’s throw away from Cubao’s busy thoroughfare.

Barbecue carries with it a universal appeal for good reason: it’s simple, delicious and is almost always associated with family, friends or festivities.
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The resto’s facade is surprisingly familiar. There’s a roadside barbecue stand back home that uses the same tactic of temptation to lure anyone with a nose to do a double take. Growing up, I’d have barbecue from that stand at least once a week. It’s still there and it’s an institution in itself. That’s how good it is.

I’d like to believe Big Daddy Jay’s is destined for a similar kind of following if by some strange reason it hasn’t happened yet. When I arrived, I was greeted by the smell of ribs over a spartan grill and a flaming red smoker, true to form without shortcuts. The fact that it started out as a stall in a weekend food market and has grown into a cozy little restaurant makes it a good success story. They try to keep the recipe within the family. Jay, the “big daddy”, is actually the American brother in-law of one of the owners. The smoked ribs served to us is his own recipe, and even before they started putting it out there, he’s already been feeding the family with lip smacking pork ribs.
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Their specialty, treated with authentic southern American comfort, is a winner. I won’t beat around the bush: it’s really really good.
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There’s no other way to put it. The ribs were treated with love. Meticulous love that goes the extra mile. I’m not exaggerating. The ribs were spiced rubbed twice before being smoked (using locally sourced wood chips) at a really low temperature for a few hours. What that achieves is a slab of tenderness that yields effortlessly to the light pressure of knife. How’s that for a hallelujah?
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It was served with a side of buttered rice. To be fair I never count calories when I eat. There were two dishes served as well, including deep fried chicken wings done two ways (buffalo and honey mustard) and a pasta dish that was good but not really spectacular. But the real star were the ribs.
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People (and by that I mean Yedy and Eugene) told me the photos I take where everything’s blurred are pretty good. I’ll take that as a really great compliment and an impetus to add more of that here. I’m not sure if it’s really art or maybe just a shoddy semblance but either way I’m sticking with it. Here’s a parting shot of Mr. and Mrs. Pickiest Eater with the little one. I like it, and what I did was probably a disservice to them since they’re a good-looking couple but hey, it’s art y’all.
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There’s a spring in my step

All good things must come to an end. And this right here, this is the perfect photo finish. It’s funny that I marked my “revival” with an entry about beginnings. In the cycle of things, an ending is essentially a beginning in itself. We’ve all heard the adage.
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I can still remember the first day of cooking school. Everything in between was filled with so much highs and lows, and of course, food. Now this is the part where I’m about to place a period in the sentence because my time in cooking school is almost over. Classes are done, and to cap off the baking part of the program, our comprehensive exam had us create four identical plated desserts, the dessert being a strawberry mille feuille. It has components that we’ve all learned, from the puff pastry, joconde sponge, mousseline cream, to the tempered chocolate.

The night before I was a hot mess. If there was a single component I was afraid of it was the cream. There’s a glaring difference between thick and thin and try as I might I always end up with thin cream when it’s supposed to be thick.

After stress eating (because I do that occasionally, when push comes to shove), saying a prayer at the local church and talking to my mom (she basically encouraged me to stress eat), the big day has arrived.

We had two hours and thirty minutes to complete the four plates, and with around ten minutes to spare I was done. Everything was so vivid, it played out like an action movie. I couldn’t have picked a better time to just shut up and do it, because I really did well if I do say so myself. Everything was all me.
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We still have a major project coming up and then I’m off to do my internship (I’m crossing my fingers), but right now I’m just too happy. The partial proverbial weight has been lifted off my shoulders.

I had a conversation with one of my best friends last night. I’d like to believe we have a shared optimism when it comes to certain things in life. We both agree that it’s done in bad taste to make people wait. We also think that when you’re passionate, you could move mountains because relatively speaking, impossible is nothing.
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It’s strange to think that four little pieces of dessert have gotten me so riled up but what the heck, I’m rolling with it.

This is where it begins

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Between this entry and the cliffhanger of a post about macarons, so much has happened. But let this post be my starting point. My new starting point, because early this year things just didn’t feel right… writing just didn’t feel right. Did I have nothing to write about? (refer to the first sentence in this paragraph) Of course not! In fact things have become richer, more exciting but I’m getting ahead of myself. Like I said, this is my starting point.

What this isn’t is an apology. I won’t apologize for going under the radar and allowing this space to gather dust. If you have ever felt like you’re trying to fit a square peg in a round hole then you’ll understand why I just couldn’t force it out of me to blog. Inspiration, I lacked. It may sound like bull but it’s true.

I’m not sure if I got this from an internet meme or if this was a passage from a book, but either way it rings true: “I’ don’t know where I’m going but at least I’m getting there”.

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I found myself in a nice little resto that offers updated versions of Filipino food. Smokin’ Hot BarBQ is pretty cool, if how they treat turon is an indication. Two scoops of ice cream, one laced with jackfruit and one made from ube, rest in a brittle cone whose texture is like that of a crunchy brandy snap more than anything else. Serving it in a bamboo log is the icing on the proverbial cake.
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But the highlight of the day was the company and not the turon. The speculoos cheesecake we had would have to be a close second, but this entry would have to be for the people I was with. I met Yedy and Eugene when we were at Foodgasm. Yedy was also a judge and Eugene was her plus-one. Being the innocent child I was, I asked if we could brave the crowd together as we sampled the food. One thing led to another and there I was almost a month later invited by two bloggers to try a speculoos cheesecake courtesy of Chef Mico Aspiras.
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We were essentially going to photograph the cheesecake so we could write about it. I’ve never done something like that before. Being the one with the culinary background, I just had to wield the knife. It was the first time I witnessed just how mad food bloggers can be when it comes to food photography. I mean, like really really technical. Detail-oriented with a meticulous understanding of light and white balance, these guys worked with gumption. I was, in a way, amazed.
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The conversations just kept flowing and from my end I felt that there was this sense of realization that things just clicked and made sense. We could be friends. What amazed me more was that I was talking to people who actually read my blog and have heard of me even before formal introductions! To add to that, both of them are food blogging powerhouses in their own right. But the latter I could care less about, because they’re just great people.

To cut to the chase, it’s been a few weeks since that fateful day and both of them have been constant weekend fixtures. It’s rare that I get to hit it off with people so quick, to laugh at the most shallow things (and people), and to share similar dreams that revolve around food, words and photos. The universe must be telling me something.

They’ve been encouraging me to go back to writing again because it just feels right for me to use this medium to put myself out there. More than anything else I’ll approach this staying true to who I am, because if there’s one thing I’m proud of, it’s my perspective.
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Oh, and the speculoos cheesecake? Yedy and I found the chocolate good, but overpowering. Eugene enjoyed that part. As for the cheesecake itself, anointing it with speculoos was a brilliant idea, because everyone loves the little cookie that could. I’m not a fan of cheesecake, but what we had was pretty good.

And what/who I have right now? It’s even better.

22

This week was my birthday week! I turned twenty-two a few days ago and that’s about it. I didn’t have my immediate family with me to celebrate my day but my friends both old and new helped me get by and redefine the word “celebrate”.

The night before my birthday we had dinner at one of the restaurants along the strip behind the nearby mall. It’s called Zoricho and it took us a while to understand that the specialty is actually chorizo, hence the name which is a play on the word. The chorizo sisig and the chorizo platter were the runaway favorites.
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On the day itself I had classes to attend. We were dismissed late and my friends and I were hungry. In a spur of the moment decision we all decided to eat at the all-you-can-eat Korean buffet conveniently located on the 3rd floor of the building our school occupies. The name isn’t really memorable since it’s in Korean, but we will go back next week because the selections taste great, all for 299php. It’s one of those “I can’t stop thinking about it” moments.
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The day after, we were in the kitchen making our products for the day. It was the day of the cinnamon raisin loaf, and coming home hungry, I decided to just eat it with salad greens tossed in olive oil, salt and pepper and honey. It’s unconventional by my standards, but unconventional is good. Really good.
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When I was in high school our Literature teacher made us memorize and recite a poem just for the heck of it. She gave me “When I was one-and-twenty” by A.E. Housman. I’ve never forgotten it since:

When I was one-and-twenty
I heard a wise man say,
‘Give crowns and pounds and guineas
But not your heart away;

Give pearls away and rubies
But keep your fancy free.’
But I was one-and-twenty,
No use to talk to me.

When I was one-and-twenty
I heard him say again,
‘The heart out of the bosom
Was never given in vain;
‘Tis paid with sighs a plenty
And sold for endless rue.’
And I am two-and-twenty,
And oh, ‘tis true, ‘tis true.

The last few lines of the third stanza hit me hard, and not just because I’m already twenty-two. It’s merely a number. I’d like to measure my age differently. I’m no poet, but experience is so valuable. We may think we know the world, we may do things we might regret, we may fall in love and get hurt, and we may be riddled with scars and bruises…but we learn, we grow, and we transform. That’s the place I’m in right now.

Have a great weekend everyone!

 

For the love of bread

When will we ever feel that we have so much time to spare, that days are long and years are infinite? Here I am, and here we are towards the end of January. I sometimes find myself waking up and looking at the ceiling…amazed that I just blinked and two weeks have already passed. I think I’m pretty lucky to be where I am right now with school that I’m glad that so far, time has been well spent. Really well spent.

And dare I say it, I think I might have fallen in love with this new “chore” that we have to do: artisan bread making. We’ve already made a few breads to be proud of. When I’m thinking about making bread again, I feel all giddy inside. The process amazes me. There’s so much science and precision that goes into the process of transforming flour, water, yeast, and salt into a myriad of baked goods. It’s an alchemy that also involves so much art and intuition. There’s nothing like it in the world – baking bread by hand.

It’s strange that a few sessions in bread making has opened me up like this. I’m beginning to see bread with brand new eyes – it’s clearer, more beautiful. And when it’s all hot, crusty and fresh from the oven, dipping a slice in really good olive oil is an incredible revelation. I can eat it all day, in the same way that I have no qualms of baking bread all day.

Bread has made me all warm and fuzzy inside. It’s great to know I have a soul.

These are the beauties (a batard and two baguettes) that I baked last week. Let’s just ogle at them for a bit. Excuse me while I quell my hunger.

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First feast

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Now it can be told: my days whizz by when I’m in the kitchen. I mean, I could kind of remember the sun hitting my face when I opened my eyes and I found myself on the early morning flight back home. Then…everything was a blur. There were good snippets of course: hosting a dinner for my friends, two charity events with the same people, Christmas lunch, and the micro-feast we had this morning. In between these events I was cooking up a storm, making sure time was blurred. In a few days I’ll be back in Manila and I hope I can make the most of the borrowed time.

A neighbor died today, January 1st. I’d like to believe he died a happy 79-year old man. “Life is too short”, his wife told us when we visited. Amen. We might as well enjoy the ride.

In the thick of things I found myself hitting the stress button more than once this morning when a few things didn’t go my way. But all was well, and I still couldn’t believe I put together almost all of what was on the table. Yay me.

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The spread:

Now I would consider this paella pretty fancy – with the arborio and saffron. But I still crave the one my Mama Eng usually makes with regular rice and malagkit/sticky rice, with that nice color that only cheap atsuete can give! Recipe here. For two years now we’ve had paella for New Year. Not too shabby!
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Chicken Galantina
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homemade ham – recipe here
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The ribs look glorious if I do say so myself.

Not all the meals I’ll have this year will be grand (I might even skip a meal or two). But I intend to enjoy this year in the company of good people and even better conversations. Let’s put ourselves out there! Happy New Year everyone. 🙂

So this is Binondo

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I’ve always wanted to explore Binondo (Manila’s Chinatown) before the year ends and I’m glad that I got to cross one item off my proverbial bucket list last week. It’s strange that sometimes I think commuting can actually deter you from going on the actual “journey”. Case in point: it took us two hours to get to Quiapo (the adjacent iconic bargain shopping district, has a train station and is a stone’s throw away from Binondo) because Manila’s traffic was especially harsh. The usual throng of commuters from dawn until dusk is commonplace, but it’s something I need to get used to.
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But the journey was worth it, although with all the conviction in the world I can say that the trip barely scratched the surface. Next year we intend to go on one of those food tours because as much as Binondo should be seen, it also must be tasted.

The funny thing is the real reason why we went to Binondo is for me to buy ham from Exelente, another icon in Chinese hams, or so they say. Although I found out that reviews are mixed, my chef instructor raves about it, so I assumed that to buy one was already worth the hassle of the trip. And the cosmic joke of the day was Exelente’s shop is in Quiapo, not Binondo! All I had to do was consult google and of course I didn’t do it. The trip to Chinatown wasn’t a waste of course, since our heavy lunch at Wai Ying kept me happy. As a lover of sio mai, their offering didn’t disappoint. Of course the dumplings have to be good! The duck could have been more tender, since a good piece of duck cooked properly just sings.
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After lunch, when we were still looking for Exelente (the crucial bit of info came much later), it was only natural for us to travel on foot to offset what we ate (a natural rationalization). I took a few random photos here and there.
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Then after three random inquiries (we were skeptical with the first two) that confirmed that the ham was in Quiapo, off we went. Getting there was easy, since people actually knew where Exelente was.
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I admit, I was amazed.
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The boneless hams cost roughly 100php/100 grams.

The hams are pricier that what you would normally see in the groceries, because after consuming 90% a kilo in three days (YEAH), it was pretty obvious that Exelente’s hams are legitimate meat, and are a notch higher in taste. The holiday season must bring out the best in these hams. But I’m still on the look-out for other brands that are just as good or even better.

So there you have it. This trip is really the tip of the iceberg and now that I know what’s in store for me next time, I’m more than excited to dive head first in a food tour come 2013. It’s going to be a good year, I feel it in my bones!

Excelente Ham, Inc
155-157 Carlos Palanca Sr. Street
Quiapo, Metro-Manila