Feast your eyes on…

Today’s Christmas day here in the Philippines. Let me just put it out there that nobody can topple a Filipino Christmas! Sure, almost every culture that celebrates Christmas puts emphasis on family and togetherness and good tidings, but the happy chaos that comes with the territory of a Filipino holiday spread is incomparable.

In our family, it has been almost a tradition of sorts to expect a lot of people for Christmas lunch. By “a lot of people” I mean my grandmother’s extended (and I use that loosely) family PLUS their respective posse is usually in full attendance. The general flow usually goes like this: the people gather around the buffet table to say grace and a few minutes later, it’s most likely that grandma would order a refill of the dishes. We had lechon (roast pig) this year and she was fighting tooth and nail (I kid) to save the head for her other friends who haven’t showed up yet, but to no avail. The lechon didn’t stand a chance.
Our dishes aren’t really “special”. By special I mean, those dishes prepared using classy technique or expensive ingredients. Because we literally feed a crowd, it’s best to go back to the basics: macaroni salad, estofado (pork stewed in tomato sauce and potatoes), fried chicken, leche flan, valenciana (sticky rice with meat and chorizo – like paella but without the color and seafood), pancit sotanghon, chop suey and lechon. Don’t forget the rice! A river of rice.

The fare is still special, but not “special”. We’ll save the “special” fare for the New Year.
But I did take a page out of Julia Child’s cookbook.
Beef with wine?

Yes, you guessed right. I made Boeuf/Beef Bourguignon! Making this is momentous for me because this has been a long time (a year really) coming (!).

It’s just too bad my internet connection’s going crazy. When I connect my modem to my router it doesn’t get a signal, but when I connect my modem to my pc it works. So there’s no wireless connection. And…I hope I made sense there. But Christmas goes on! (falalalala!)

I’ll probably post the recipe tomorrow, and blog about it in detail. But for now, it’s a silent and peaceful night for me. One of the best gifts I’ll probably give myself this Christmas…. is a good night’s sleep. Happy holidays everyone!

Green Tea Leche Flan

Before I’ll be pegged as a Christmas fanatic: No, this is not another post about how we are a little too excited for Christmas.  Anyway…

Is there a difference between creme caramel and leche flan? I’d like to believe that the differences aren’t really glaring (that’s a ‘no’). Plus Wikipedia backs me up.

Before custard purists hurl burning caramel at me, let me just say that custard making is subjective. Sure, there’s  crème caramel and crème brûlée but I didn’t know what these were up until I started watching cooking shows. I basically grew up with my grandmother’s leche flan recipe. Which is the best. And before I earn haters, come on, every household in the Philippines thinks their leche flan recipe is the best. Her leche flan became my standard when I tried to make crème caramel. 

She basically makes her leche flan for parties so I’ve never really seen here use a bowl. She uses a palanggana. You know, slightly large basin ideally used for washing clothes. Yeah, you read that right. I’ve never seen her use measuring cups either. And she doesn’t use a water bath; she steams it by placing one mold on top of the other with barbecue sticks in between.

And after two ‘pretty good’ attempts, I’d still believe her recipe is still the best. And I’ll resign myself to my newfound belief that crème caramel and leche flan are peas of the same pod, albeit not exactly identical, they vary from place to place, but you get the picture. I hope.

I used a water bath, and painstakingly looked for a recipe that does not use heavy cream since it’s not readily available where I am. Plus grandma’s leche flans never use cream – milk (she uses Evap, I use Fresh) and eggs are the way to go. I hope I can post her recipe here sooner or later.

And I made these with green tea powder because my it was my cousin’s birthday (he turned 12 yesterday) and he liked my first batch a lot. This recipe yielded really soft custard that still jiggles a bit but that’s the way he likes it. I’m not sure if he knows there’s green tea in it but what the heck, he’s 12.

Green Tea Creme Caramel/Leche Flan (good for 4 small ramekins)

adapted from le gourmet tv 

  • 1 ½ cup sugar, divided
  • ½ cup water
  • 2 ½ cups milk (I used fresh milk)
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 sachet sweet green tea powder
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. In a heavy skillet, combine 1 cup sugar and water and heat on medium swirling frequently but not stirring until sugar caramelizes.
  3. Remove from heat when amber in color. Pour caramel into 4 ramekins and swirl the container to coat the bottom.
  4. Heat milk on stove top until hot but not boiling. Add the green tea powder and mix well.
  5. In a bowl, whisk eggs, egg yolks and sugar until foamy. Add milk in a steady stream while whisking.
  6. Add vanilla. Pour mixture over a fine mesh strainer. Distribute evenly among the ramekins.
  7. Set ramekins in a large pan (I used one tin pan and another glass dish because that’s what we have) and carefully pour boiling water to come half way up the sides of the ramekins.
  8. Bake for 30 – 40 minutes or until custards are set. Remove from oven and allow to cool and set in the refrigerator for at least four hours. Serve cold and enjoy!

And I know I placed a tea bag in the photo but the recipe called for green tea powder. The tea bag was used as a prop but I did try steeping the tea in milk for the first attempt. You can do either of the two methods. But using powder eliminates the fuss. 🙂

Hello Hong Kong

It’s not everyday that you get to travel to another country, so here I am, milking the moment to talk/write about it for what it’s worth.

My uncle told me that if you want to travel, travel and see your country first, then Asia, then the rest of the world. I had my fair share of travels around the Philippines and so it’s time to visit my neighbors around Asia. So a few months ago, around June while I was still reviewing for the board exam, my mom and I, together with my ninang, booked tickets to Hong Kong. Then we flash forward to August 20th, when I learned that I passed my board exam (!). Then three days later we were on a plane to Hong Kong, to celebrate my RN status, among other things. Time went by sooooo fast!

Arriving at the airport and taking it all in, I could really tell that the people were warm, friendly and inviting.

Well, most of them.

From the airport we were supposed to be fetched by a car from the hotel we stayed at, but it was a no-show. So, the friendly people at the information desk provided us with an option to ride the bus which leaves in 30 minutes. OR a faster way to get there, which leaves whenever we were ready. It was cheap too. And I say that with all the sarcasm dripping from my mouth.

That will be the first and last time I’ll ride a limo, so for a moment there I was giddy.

I can’t get over how clean, organized and amazing my view of Hong Kong looked, especially at night. It’s a far cry from what I’ve been accustomed to see here in the Philippines, but of course, I’ll come back to the chaos in a few days time, so I took in every single detail.

We arrived at around 8:00 pm and we were so hungry. So we strolled along the busy streets filled with activity and found a 7/11 where we bought some supplies for our stay

And if somebody could tell me what the hell this is, please, indulge me.

And a few meters away we found our spot: a quaint, really small diner that served, well, local (and slightly cheap) Hong Kong cuisine. I forgot the name but I was so hungry at that point that I was cranky and didn’t really care about anything but the food. So was my mom apparently. 🙂

It’s customary to serve with meals with warm tea, but I think the second part of the custom is to have it only after you’re done eating your meal. So we didn’t really follow that part. 🙂

I ordered the lemongrass spareribs

While my mom had these weird noodles that reminded me of buco/coconut meat shreds.

And my ninang had the seafood fried rice.

I was underwhelmed with the spareribs. It tasted bland. I’d say the same for my mom’s noodles. The runaway favorite was the fried rice. I think Hong Kong food isn’t generally big on toyo/soy sauce. Their philosophy, I guess, is to let the food cook in its natural flavors or what not with minimal flavoring from condiments, because I noticed that pattern during the rest of my food trip. I’m not saying that my food experience was not short of amazing though.

Of course, maybe that’s just my palate still hard-wired to appreciate salty greasy Filipino food (and I say that with respect!). Plus, I know people who’ve been to Hong Kong will relate with me when I say that from the hole-in-the-wall eateries to the finest fine dining areas, all restos have this particular scent that doesn’t smell bad, but it’s really intriguing that I couldn’t really place my finger on what that smell is or what particular spice/ingredient it comes from.

But still, I enjoyed my first meal in Hong Kong and went back to the hotel satisfied. Plus, our room had a great view of the HK skyline so I was a happy camper at that point. Sleepy, but satisfied.

And of course, it gets better (To be continued…)

A Golden Day

My mom turned 50 yesterday so technically she’s half a century old already! It was a day for thanksgiving and at the end of the night, after a simple party we planned, the only word that could sum it all up was ‘perfect’.

But of course, arriving at the destination wasn’t perfect: this was bump along the way, but at least it wasn’t that dangerous. The dirty pebbles inside these amazing souvenir boxes my friend made for the party, are actually M&M’s with my mom’s face on it. If you’re not from the continental USA, I don’t recommend you order one online and have it shipped from point A to B to C without your direct supervision. Heat and a whole lot of “I don’t care if it’s fragile” handling caused the ink to fade, chips to crack and candies to melt and mold together. But of course, at the end of the day, we managed to pull it off pretty well. My mom was pretty pleased with the end product. Aren’t they nice?

This is shallow compared to what we’ve been through these past three years, but we just celebrated the biggest milestone/blessing we’ve ever had. Life isn’t perfect but we can always find a reason to smile, laugh and celebrate.

All is well. And all will be well. 🙂