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. 

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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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Coming home to Mom and Tina’s

An evening visit to Mom and Tina’s bakery cafe last week left me wondering why I haven’t heard of and visited them sooner. It took me almost six months and their nearest outlet is a short tricycle ride away.
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What is endearing about the cafe is how they put a premium on detail. The interiors from the plump sofas to the wooden accents remind you of home, or a little cottage in the middle of the woods sans the cannibal witch…take your pick. The ambiance, now that Christmas is just around the corner, is incredibly festive and comforting. I feel that it’s part of the attraction and it works spendidly.
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You go there to soak up as much positive juju there is, and of course, to taste the food which is actually really good. It’s the blissful marriage of form and food that makes Mom and Tina’s a winner.
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The rolls that went with my delicious pasta all’Amatriciana (homemade fettucine with bacon and black olive sauce) were crusty on the outside and light and airy on the inside…in other words, it was the perfect foil.
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Their selections are diverse, which compels you to come back and eat with gusto once again.
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Never leave the place with trying the mini sans rival. Their pint-sized version of the real thing doesn’t scrimp on flavor with its luscious butter cream and nut filling between layers of chewy meringue. It could be a meal in itself given its calorie count, but if you’re like me…I ain’t countin.
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It has only been a week and my recent visit just last Sunday where I ordered their filling bacon and spinach quiche really affirmed that this is a place I’ll frequent. The beauty of it is that sometimes time stands still. It has the kind of laid-back, “I could read a book here all day” vibe you look for when you want to feel like you’re home because the semblance is there.

In a way, when you’re at Mom and Tina’s, you’re essentially coming home.

Mom and Tina’s Bakery Cafe

FRDC Building
106 E. Rodriguez Jr. Ave.
(C-5), Pasig City
Tel: 914-0833 or 571-1541
 
G/F Unit 14
Tropical Palms Condominum
Dela Rosa St. cor. Perea St.,
Legaspi Village, Makati City
Tel: 840-4299 or 894-3598
 
2nd floor,
Regis Center,
Katipunan Ave.,
Quezon City
Tel: 990-2875 or 990-2815
 
58 Sgt. Esguerra Ave.,
South Triangle,
Quezon City
Tel: 332-3080 or 332-3589

Grilled Cheese Pandesal Sandwich

Look away if you’re dieting, or believe that a person should stick to the 2000 calories/day mark, because what I made today, isn’t just 2000 calories. I’m not a dietician (though I did get really good grades in Nutrition when I was a sophomore in college), but I just know, these grilled cheese sandwiches are heavy and loaded.

Butter/margarine + (cheese * 3)  + bread = lots of calories.
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But don’t fret, If you’re like me, you won’t make it to two sandwiches. I surprised even myself. A bite or two will satisfy you, eating a whole sandwich is practically a foodgasm. Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that these are pretty good. This isn’t really about a recipe, more of a technique (says Chef John of Food Wishes who I got this from). He calls it an “Inside-and-Out Grilled Cheese Sandwich” because, apart from the melted cheese filling, he goes the extra mile by sprinkling grated cheese on the frying sandwich and it consequently melts to form this really great tangy crust. God, I’m hungry again.
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This is the inexpensive (read:cheap) version of his sandwich because it uses three local ingredients: margarine, pan de sal and the run-of-the-mill grocery cheese (like Eden).  Of course, just because the ingredients may have been scaled down to cheaper proportions doesn’t make it any less tasty. By all means, since this is more of a technique, throw caution to the wind and splurge.
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I wouldn’t recommend making this a daily habit, but on the day that you do decide to make this (seeing as the ingredients you probably have lying around in your fridge and pantry already), well, consider it a special day.
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Inside and Out Grilled Cheese Pandesal Sandwich (adapted from Food Wishes)

  • Grated cheese (whatever cheese you have lying around, but Chef John advocates cheddar)
  • Pandesal, sliced in half
  • A few tablespoons butter or margarine (DO NOT USE STAR MARGARINE, because it’s too salty; use butter/margarine with a more mellow flavor)
  1. Heat a few tablespoons of butter in a nonstick (only use nonstick) pan over low to medium heat.
  2. Place the pandesal, two cut pieces at a time with cut/inside part facing upward. Flatten it a bit with your spatula.
  3. Generously sprinkle grated cheese over one piece. Then top with the other piece.
  4. Gently and generously sprinkle additional cheese on top of the sandwich. Add more butter to the pan if needed.
  5. Carefully flip the sandwich so the top with the cheese is now frying at the bottom. Flatten it a bit more with your spatula to evenly brown the cheese crust.
  6.  Repeat the process of sprinkling with cheese, flipping and frying so the lightly browned crust forms on both sides.
  7.  When sufficiently browned, remove from heat and serve immediately. Enjoy!

Cinnamon Rolls

Before I made my first cake I baked my first bread. Even before my first bread, I made my first bao/siopao. So I introduced myself to yeast early on in my life as a food blogger. The orthodox ladder of progression must have been lost in the mail.
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The first batch of cinnamon rolls I made a month or two ago, had the texture of day old bread. Suffice to say I was disappointed so that made me lay off making rolls for a while. So maybe starting haphazardly has its disadvantages.

After more than a week of silence (I went on a little trip) I finally went back to the kitchen and baked. I made the mistake of forgetting when the yeast sitting at the back of the fridge was going to expire, so over the next few days and weeks you will hopefully see me churning out yeast inspired magic. Tall order, I know.

I was skeptical at first. I didn’t know if the yeast would froth (the indicator that yeast is still viable). I knew the froth had to resemble copious amounts of beer foam, but the description said as long as the top bubbles, it’s still usable. And bubble it did.

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The original recipe called for cream cheese frosting, but I didn’t have any cream cheese on hand. But the first bite into these morsels managed to make me forget all about it. These didn’t taste like day-old bread at all (!).
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The verdict: it tastes like how I imagined a great cinnamon roll to taste like – a soft whisper of a crust, giving way to the warm, soft, pillow-y interior. The filling perfectly buttery, with just the right amount of cinnamon. It made perfect sense.
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You can add the cream cheese glaze, nuts and raisins, even apples to the filling, but these rolls stand alone perfectly. I’m not sure if it’s the monsoon season here in the Philippines but we have been having rain showers for days now. A batch of warm toasty cinnamon rolls with a cup of hot chocolate would be your best friend on a lazy, cold afternoon.
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Cinnamon Rolls (makes 12 – 13 rolls; adapted from yummy.ph)

For the dough

  • 1 (1/4-ounce) package OR 2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1 cup warm milk
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt

For the filling

  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons cinnamon
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup butter, cubed and softened
  1. In the bowl, dissolve yeast in warm milk. (If you have an electric mixer, you can do this in its bowl). Leave for 5 minutes.
  2. Add sugar, butter, and eggs. Using a hand mixer fitted with the dough hook (or the electric mixer), run the mixer on low speed to stir the mixture.
  3. Gradually add flour and salt, and knead until mixture forms a smooth, elastic dough, about 20 to 30 minutes. I used the dough hook to “knead” it for a while, then placed it on a floured surface and knead it by hand. It took some time but patience is key.
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  4. Place dough in a greased bowl. Cover with cling wrap and leave in a warm place. Allow dough to rise until double in size; about 1 hour.
  5. Punch dough to release air then transfer to a work surface. Roll dough into a rectangle (24-inch – long, 16-inch-wide, about 1/4-inch-thick).

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    uhm, yeaaah, that looks about right. 😉

  6. Make the filling: Combine brown sugar and cinnamon in a bowl and mix well.
  7. Using a spatula, spread softened butter evenly over the dough then sprinkle the surface with the cinnamon-sugar filling.PhotobucketPhotobucket
  8. Roll dough tightly into a log. With the seam side down, cut the dough into 2-inch slices. Place on a greased baking pan, or a pan lined with a silicone baking mat, 2 inches apart. Allow dough to rise until double in size, about 30 minutes.Photobucket
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  9. Bake the rolls in an oven preheated to 375 F/190 C for about 12 to 15 minutes or until golden. Place on a wire rack to cool slightly. Serve warm and enjoy!

Completely unrelated:

I came home from Manila with a handful of things to help me out in the kitchen: two nice cookbooks, a brand new silpat (which you can see in the pictures), useful kitchen utensils and, wait for it, placemats. I use these when I’m taking photographs of the food I make and it really helps. Scouring the discount aisles at The Landmark for placemats made me feel like a child again. (haha)

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Focaccia

Now I understand.
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There’s really nothing like the taste of freshly baked homemade bread. Your friendly neighborhood corner bakery is always there to supply you with all kinds of bread, but no, baking your own bread, though time consuming and tedious, is a achievement all on its own. It’s something special. Really special. Remind me to bake bread more often and be my own bakery. Well, someday.
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I made focaccia today. I was inspired by Beti’s (of Beti Vanilla) attempt at focaccia. It looked so great that I had to try it for myself. I wasn’t disappointed. It has no eggs, it’s crusty and dense. I’d like to believe that it can be likened to a blank canvas. It’s that kind of bread. You can go crazy and stud it with dried fruits or fresh herbs. Well, I didn’t go crazy with mine. I gently peppered it with dried rosemary to give it that rustic, “I could just lounge all day and munch on it” taste.
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It was a good thing that I didn’t go crazy. A few days ago, at the airport while waiting for my flight, I was perusing the stalls for pasalubong (something to give to the people at home), and luckily I gave Rajah Manila (Filipino delicacies) a chance. They happened to sell The Fruit Garden jams and I took home small jars of their mango-ginger and mango-lavender. An even, generous spread of the mango-ginger on warm focacia is a match made in heaven. After taking photos of the finished product, I rewarded myself with just that – a warm piece of happiness.
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It’s not really focaccia itself that I’m putting on a pedestal, rather it’s the experience of making freshly baked bread. It’s something else. Words can’t entirely capture the feeling. Just do it and you’ll understand.
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Cheers to a happy day (!)

Focaccia (makes 2 large buns; adapted from Beti Vanilla)

  • 2 1/2 c. of flour
  • 1 tablespoon dried rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar
  • 1 c. warm water
  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons of active dry yeast
  1. In a large bowl mix 1 cup of flour, sugar, yeast, salt and rosemary. Add olive oil and warm water.Photobucket
  2. Beat on medium speed using a hand mixer with the dough hook attachment (or a stand mixer if you have one) for about 3 minutes stirring enough remaining flour until the dough is soft.Photobucket
  3. Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and knead for about 8 minutes until smooth, adding more flour if necessary.Photobucket
  4. Place dough in a medium bowl greased with olive oil. Cover it with plastic wrap and let it rise in a warm place for an hour.PhotobucketPhotobucket
  5. When it rises deflate the dough and divide it in two shaping each half like a giant cookie. Put it in a prepared pan, add some olive oil on top and cover with plastic wrap. Let it rise for the second time. Preheat oven to 400 F/200C
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  6. Using your fingers, make small holes on the surface of the dough and drizzle some more olive oil, brushing it gently.Photobucket
  7. Bake them at 400°F/200 C for about 15 minutes – 20 minutes (do not over-bake) until light golden brown. Serve with jam or spread of choice. Enjoy!

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I was supposed to post this yesterday but the internet connection was prohibitive. Standby for my contribution to the food blogging community’s Chinese New Year celebration!

Pandesal Bread Pudding for Friends


It’s been a few days, well, four days to be exact, since the….anniversary. It’s not really a pleasant one and I’d like to keep the memories of the incident buried. But since it’s been a year, I might as well remember it.
Last year, 10/10/10, I had undergone my first surgery for appendicitis.

Even if I’m a nurse, the experience of being a patient about to go under the knife is something I’d really not repeat again. Who knew that a really painful tummy ache that made me miss school for a day would develop into a potentially life threatening condition that made me miss my finals.

The most vivid memory from that experience would be me on the operating room table, talking to the anesthesiologist. Because the surgeon didn’t arrive yet, we engaged in small talk for a while. Him asking me about my course, me responding, then the next thing I know, I’m waking up a few hours later, groggy and in my room. The operation was done. I swear it was just like blinking. The first few words I heard was from my anesthesiologist, who told my mom that he had to give me medicine because my BP fell during the operation. Creepy really. But the thought of the whole “blink and it’s done” moment was slightly cool.

The next few days were painstakingly difficult for me. I had no concept on what time and day it was. I couldn’t eat, not that I felt the need to eat. Don’t even get me started on my elimination pattern.

Anyway, my tiny refrigerator was stocked with food I couldn’t eat. Mostly it came from Aunty Nitz’s bakeshop, the bakery that sells really tasty egg pie with a filling like the Macau egg tarts I love. There was no egg pie but there were plenty of individually sliced bread puddings. When my friends and classmates visited me, they were the ones who finished all of it in one sitting. Maybe they were milking my situation for all its worth but no, they care about me. I hope. (They care about me. They care about me. They care about me….)

So to remember the day that my diseased appendix was taken out…I made bread pudding.

And this isn’t like the Aunty Nitz variety, where it was one homogeneous mixture. I wanted to honor the humble pandesal (proudly local Filipino bread) by toasting it with butter first. Then mixing it with the custard mixture. This adds another layer of texture to the otherwise plain bread pudding. This is really simple and pandesal can be substituted for any bread that you fancy. What I really like about it is that it is not cloyingly sweet. So I’d enjoy it while I can.

I’d like to dedicate this post to to Jam (who also shared her lecture notes for my consumption), Riez, Jad, Camille, Juneth, Yana, Floyd and all my friends and classmates who remembered me while is was in it for the long haul. It wasn’t easy but here I am one year later, alive and well, blogging about it.

Pandesal Bread Pudding (makes 3 ramekins)
  • 3 large pan de sal
  • 4 whole eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup sugar + more (to your liking) for the cinnamon sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup melted butter, or enough to butter the bread and grease the ramekins
  • 1 tsp cinnamon (or more for the cinnamon sugar)
  1. Preheat the oven to 180 C. Grease three small ramekins with melted butter
  2. Using a bread knife, slice the pan de sal into half an inch slices. Brush both sides with butter and allow to toast in an over toaster for 2 – 3 minutes or until crunchy.
  3. Whisk the eggs with the sugar until fully incorporated. Add the milk and vanilla extract.
  4. Arrange the toasted bread slices on the ramekins. If pieces are too large, you may slice them in half.
  5. Pour the milk and egg mixture over bread slices and fill until halfway (or 3/4ths) full. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar (to make: just mix the sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl until the sugar takes on the cinnamon-y color well)
  6. Bake it in the oven for 30 – 45 minutes until the top is golden brown.