Yolanda and You: we need your help

The past few days have been extremely difficult for us here in the Philippines. The past few months have been heartbreaking, but this force of nature is something else entirely. In the Visayas region, especially in Leyte where typhoon Haiyan (local name Yolanda) hit the hardest, graphic scenes of death and anarchy have been documented. At one point I found it difficult to swallow. The stories collected from the survivors sound so extraordinary that it might as well be a plot point from a disaster movie. But it’s not. It’s raw and real.

The next logical step is not to pin the blame on anyone, but to reach out. Please, we need your help. This is an appeal. People need the most basic of items: food, clothing, medicines. It doesn’t matter how much or how little you can give. Every single item counts.

The Philippine Red Cross, American Red Cross, Save The Children, World Food Programme are all accepting donations. (Click the links to redirect to their page)

Locally, here are a few ways to get in touch

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And on the dates indicated below, restaurants have also promised to donate a portion of their sales. Dine away!
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100 Revolving Restaurant: a room with a view

I looked out and admired the view. It’s not exactly breathtaking to appraise traffic like it was a long congested line of ants.  I tilted my head upwards just a little bit so the concrete jungle is obscured. There were birds and the sky was clear. Now that was a sight.

Then I had a feeling at the pit of my stomach. I could feel the movement of the platform at the fringes of the restaurant. So it does move. It’s not really jarring, but I was queasy to begin with so it took me a while to get used to the movement. At that time of my first visit, it took two hours to complete one revolution. The revolution at the time of my second visit was faster by thirty minutes.
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That’s the first thing you notice at 100, the restaurant with iconic Chef Jessie Sincioco at the helm. She has a flair for grandiosity. The space is easy on the eyes as well. The menu is refined, but strangely enough it’s not as uptight as I thought it was going to be.
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And they make good bread. Really good bread.
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Between the kesong puti salad and the alugbati (which uses fresh, not blanched nightshade), the uncomplicated and familiar flavors of the former drew me in.
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It was a good “caprese” salad, but when the ceasar came out, that was my favorite. It had prawn popcorn, bacon bits over hearts of romaine. It was a good start.
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The dragon maki was hefty enough to be a meal in itself with its shrimp tempura on the inside, and then sprinkled with tempura bits and rich mayonnaise. I’m still learning to use chopsticks properly, and if you see me wield it you’ll notice my hand trembles. But for this maki I’ll brave the tremors.
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The vegetable maki was a surprise! I did not expect that I would enjoy it as well. It’s a notch lower in taste compared to its prawn counterpart, but I still appreciated it.

This sea bass is incredibly delicious. For the price, is it worth the trouble? I’d say yes. It’s drenched in a savory and sweet miso base and gives way to perfectly cooked flesh that holds it shape but it’s still very tender. Yes and yes.
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There’s also shrimp curry and beef roulade, but the seafood gambas is stellar. A medley of fruits of the sea drenched in punchy tomato sauce fits the bill of a good plate of ingredients cooked with respect.
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But the others aren’t rubbish at all! I fact, almost everything that was served to us was great. I’d just like to single out a few things that really stood out.

And I could sing songs about Chef Jessie’s desserts.
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But it’s in a moment of silence that my real appreciation creeps in. I close my eyes and just marvel at how I love a good dessert. In this case, I loved almost everything that was served.

It’s this souffle that made me smile the most. How can something be so light yet so rich? This is a soaring tribute to all things good in life. I am not exaggerating.
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One of my guilty pleasures is peanut butter. But I don’t really enjoy cheesecakes that much anymore because it’s like I’m falling into a pit of heavy flavours that never really take off. With peanut butter however, I can make an exception.
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The revolving tortas are little dense cakes filled with flavoured cream and topped with fruit. At this point I was already coming down from a souffle high but I still made room for this.
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For some strange reason souffle isn’t on your mind, this works. There’s also a delicious chocolate caramel cake that works for lovers of chocolate, but competing for attention against the souffle and tortas is hard.

100 is a posh gem. I’d like to believe you pay not just for the elegant (but also uncomplicated) food but for the great view as well. Who wouldn’t feel good dining with Manila’s shifting skyline as the backdrop?

Right now there are two reasons that compel me to go back: a chance to dine at night, to appreciate pinpricks of light all over the horizon and of course, the souffles. I love their souffles.

100 Revolving Restaurant
33rd Floor, MDC 100 Building, C5 corner Eastwood Drive, Quezon City
+632 962-1016

 

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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Casa Roces: the bright spots

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I was in the company of good people last weekend. We were treated to festive fare at Cafe Chino @ Casa Roces, a nice little cafe that’s nestled inside the Malacanang compound. Across the street you could already see a part of the presidential palace’s facade, and a part of the cafe itself is like a time capsule that harks back to a time of colonial aristocracy. What used to be a house owned by the Roces clan has been refurbished into a restaurant-cafe that serves an eclectic mix of Euro-Filipino cuisine.
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The interiors and furnishings, especially on the second floor are beautiful no matter how dated the atmosphere is. Kidding aside, at one point I was waiting for an old lady in white to wander/float around as well, just like the movies. Oh well, I can fantasize.
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Now onto the food. The spread was very generous. We had bread, salad, fabada, callos, ox tail, among other things. But there were three things that really stood out with superlatives.

Maybe eventually I’ll stop gushing about this simple plate of pork binagoongan, but right now I’m still floored.
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It’s a blissful moment, really. You eat a spoonful, close your eyes, utter a choice curse word and declare your undying love for it. Crispy skin, salty sauce, succulent meat. I’ll be the first to say the photo does not do it justice.

The Malacanang frozen souffle is another winner, and it’s really sexy to boot. It’s a very light lemon custard, studded with pistachios on the side. It almost melts in your mouth. The prominent, zesty lemon flavor brings it up a notch and the pistachios manage to keep it grounded. Behind me, cherubs are giggling.
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I’ve learned to develop a sweet tooth so I love a good dessert. I enjoy eating a dessert with contrasts in flavour and texture. It just speaks highly of how well the chef executes a work of art like this. It’s pretty obvious that I’m partial to pastries and desserts! But seriously, this was just stellar.

The surprise of the day came from the ensaymada con hamon y chocolate (ham and chocolate), with a little dollop of muscovado butter in top. This was very balanced.
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The obvious sweetness from the chocolate and creaminess of the brioche  plays well with the salty ham. But true to form, after I tried the souffle, this became just a good support to the main actor.  It’s still really good though!

Casa Roces is a beautiful piece of work. What I have are a few of the menu’s bright spots, but I didn’t get to try everything so there’s the open invitation to come back – probably to try new things, but mostly for the pork and frozen souffle. If it rains once again and I find myself pleasantly cloistered, this gem isn’t a bad place to wait it out.

Oh, Zamboanga

Hi. If you’ll pardon me, I’d like to take a break from the usual decadence on my blog. It’s just that this is probably the only outlet I have right now, and I need to process feelings. I need to articulate it because I might never have the chance, since right now I’m in the moment.

A few days ago I woke up to some really bad news. My hometown, Zamboanga, is under attack. The Moro National Liberation Front, well a faction of the whole entity led by Nur Misuari, entered the city through coastal communities and began a standoff with the security force. The group began taking hostages – men, women, children, even a priest, and declared their demands. Why they did all of this is something I still have trouble explaining, because historically it has been a dispute about identity and sovereignty. This is not even an issue about religion. It’s about basic human rights being taken away from us.

There are no nitty-gritty details here. It’s currently day 4 of the standoff and I’m scared. I’m sick to my stomach knowing that my family is in danger. I’ve been talking to my mom every day and her tone suggests that the family is pretty safe but still. The fact that there are lawless elements with the capacity to kill, peppered around the city makes me so angry and frightened.

People have been downplaying the situation – that the government has “contained” the situation and there are only a few areas that are really high-risk.

But the thing is…everyone is afraid. If they’re not out volunteering (because hundreds of families have been displaced), they’ve locked themselves inside their homes. Banks and businesses are closed. People have liberties taken away from them. As far as I can tell, the whole city has been taken hostage.

Syria is a big deal. 9/11 was a big deal. The pork barrel scandal our government is facing is a big deal. In my heart I know that Zamboanga is a big deal.

Now I understand. Because of what happened to Jad, I’ve been holding a grudge against my hometown. He loved Zamboanga but Zamboanga couldn’t protect him. But here I am gutted, knowing that evil is trying to take my hometown away from us. Looking at photos friends posted, of people out on the streets lighting candles, saying prayers for the place I still call home, and reading all the status updates, I’m trying to process this feeling.

People still love Zamboanga, and are trying their best to protect her by protecting each other. What a comforting thought. What a sight to behold.

And I know more than half of what I’m talking about might not make sense to you – but hear me out. If you’ve ever felt that your family is in danger, that the odds of them falling in harm’s way are great, that it suddenly feels unsafe even in your own home…then that’s all you need to know.

What’s the point of me writing this? I just need to articulate my muddled feelings. And also to ask you to say a prayer for my hometown. I’d like to believe that good will always trump evil.

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.