The Black Pig

Suggesting that we try a restaurant in Alabang to celebrate a few occasions was really born out of this feeling I had at the time to just wind-down and escape. Yes, it’s a watered-down concept I know. The three of us (Yedy, Euge and I) are car-less and from the north, so it was going to be a challenge. At least going there on a Sunday isn’t as much of a pain as a weekday trek. The Black Pig was waiting, and we were hungry.
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It’s a bar and restaurant that serves a slew of things, from charcuterie to Holgate beers. It has impressive industrial interiors. But we chose to dine al fresco. The light was so good and it was pretty windy. It was a golden day.

Breaking bread to signal the start of the meal is never a bad thing. And they have good bread.
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The charcuterie board arrives. We order it because it would be such a shame if we didn’t. Across the board (pun intended), the cured meats are all flavorful but the larger lomo, without the waxiness of the smaller cuts, stands out.
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Being a bar, they offer a selection of beers. They have a good sampler, aptly called Beer Flight. If that’s not poetic enough, let me just say that the Road Trip is my hands down favorite. At that point I was tempted to order more beer, but we had meals to devour.
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Pork, beef and fish were in attendance at the table. The pork belly came with marrow. Writing this, it’s hard to be impartial if fat’s the subject. The same goes for the rib-eye. And although pork belly and marrow is a killer combo (literally), it’s the medium-rare rib-eye that steals the show. The gindara is a close second though, because it just crumbles in your mouth. It’s so delicate. Delicate.
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The desserts are a sight to behold. It does my heart good to see playfulness and whimsy in their plated desserts.
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“Which one should we start with?”, I asked one of the owners who stepped in and explained the desserts. She reasoned that we should start with the lighter fare and work our way down to the heavier options. I pursed my lips. So, we were starting with the calamansi crème brulee. Close friends know my extreme, unreasonable aversion to calamansi (and now you do too!) so my excitement was barely a simmer. I let my curiosity override my hesitation though. I was a man on a mission.

It seemed haute enough (also unusual) – complete with sorbet, foam and a tuile peppered with fennel. I use the little spoon to mix everything together, cutting through the custard and into the curd.
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I sample a spoonful and nod my head. It takes a few seconds for me to process that it’s actually pretty good. Very impressive, even. The fennel seeds add pops of depth to a tangy, but refreshing custard. Calamansi never looked this sexy.

Trying the coconut panna cotta after the crème brulee was a disservice to the panna cotta, because it felt as if it paled in comparison. It’s still refreshing, with the mandatory addition of pineapple granite, but I should have eaten this first.
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The rum baba was a slap of alcohol neatly tucked into a yeast cake. As it should be. It wasn’t my cup of tea though. I’d assume that the chocolate praline, a geometric love song to chocolate from the wafer to the ganache, is their flagship dessert. And it’s chocolate, and its execution is in a way faultless. But the nuances of the calamansi crème brulee stole my heart and made me smile.

All things considered, the people behind The Black Pig do their job well. It’s a great place. Nothing mind-blowingly ground-breaking (kids, this isn’t a proper adjective) but the food is good, and in the case of the steak, gindara and the desserts, very delicious.

There might be some leeway for comparison to other similar restaurants. In some ways, you might be partial to the fare elsewhere. But with The Black Pig, Alabang has it good.

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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.

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.

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.

Having my cake and eating it too

Like a good dessert, FOOD Magazine’s annual Presents Perfect Food Bazaar impressed without being monotonous, cloying and too overwhelming. Considering that FOOD usually devotes a few pages in their November issue to feature the best pastries and  desserts around the Metro, there was a lot to take in (and buy).

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I’ve been reading Food Magazine since I was a fat(ter) child, and it would be such a shame to miss an event like this considering that I’m already here (Manila). The perfect picture would be me buying something from every single stand that day, but that didn’t happen but I’m pretty happy with the things that I did buy. But before that, here are more than a few photos to overload your senses.
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And now with much ado…(and I think some of you might have seen this photo on my facebook page a few days ago)…my haul:
Photobucket Some of you might think I went overboard…but no. In the name of good desserts, it’s my duty, nay, right to be merry. All of these, I would recommend in a heartbeat. I’d like to believe these spell something special when the holidays are upon us. Place your orders before the rush starts, if it hasn’t started yet.
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Dulce de Leche Cheesecake
Delicious from the cream down to the biscuit base.
Forget Me Not Specialty Cakes
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Cassava Egg Tarts
YOU SERIOUSLY NEED TO TRY THIS ONE. PLEASE. YOU WILL NOT REGRET IT.
Joan and Jane Cake Bites
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White Chocolate Macadamia Brittle Cheesecake
Cheesecake – smooth as silk, the brittle – the perfect topping. Side note: they should sell the brittle separately as well.
Kitchen’s Best
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Red Velvet Cupcakes, blurred in the background: Chocotella
Both moist and rich. I prefer the Red Velvet over the Chocotella but the latter is more indulgent with its chocolate (or was it nutella?) center.
Cupcakes by Klar Joseph
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Assorted French Macarons
Who doesn’t love macarons? Come on.
Forget Me Not Specialty Cakes

Also in the photo: Bailey’s Cream Cheese Bites
A brownie made even better!
Secret Passion (can’t seem to find their facebook page)
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Dark Chocolate with Siling Labuyo (Finger Chili) and Regular Dark Chocolate
Yes, chocolate with chili. It just makes sense. I’ll always be a fan of dark chocolate, enough said.
Theo and Philo Artisan Chocolates

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Polvoron Cupcakes
It’s the classic Filipino polvoron in cupcake form, topped with what I’ll assume is white chocolate, decked out in holiday designs. Fact: my mom is in love with this.
Double Delights Food Products

So there you have it, a sampling of what’s good to taste, give and receive this Christmas. Congratulations to FOOD magazine for bringing together a great assortment of treats!

Absolute Best Brownies

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I was a bit skeptical. When people pin the words “absolute”, “best”, “ultimate”, “the best you’ll ever have. Ever(!!!!)” to the names of certain recipes, it piques your interest. You wonder if these recipe testers and bloggers are so ecstatic about this recipe that they just need to call their recipe “the best ever”. Or maybe it’s all just BS, because the benchmark isn’t at all clear-cut and objective. But it’s worth a shot. There’s that shred of genuine hope, that what you have before you is in fact, the best recipe out there.

I’m talking about these brownies, which could have been prettier had I baked the batter in the right pan. I got this recipe from Joey of 80breakfasts, a food blog that I’ve been following for a while now. I’ve never made brownies before and I thought it made sense that I begin with a recipe that probably has solid credibility (she got it from David Lebovitz after all).
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I’ve always been on the fence with brownies. I thought I’ve tasted it all: from the mercilessly rock hard to the uncharacteristically cake-y. I was wrong. I haven’t tasted this one. Now my benchmark for a good brownie has definitely been raised: it should be amazingly fudge-y (uh,duh). This recipe ticks all the right boxes. It deserves to have a superlative in its name.

The only copout was that I didn’t use premium ingredients (hey, I’m broke!). But at least I have something to look forward to when I do get my hands on real butter and fancy chocolate!
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Robert’s Absolute Best Brownies

(recipe taken with slight modifications from 80breakfasts; original recipe by David Lebovitz from his book Ready For Dessert)

  • 3 ounces (around 3/4 of a stick) unsalted or salted butter, cut into pieces, plus more for the pan
  • 8 ounces/226 grams bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 cup nuts, toasted and coarsely chopped (I wanted to add walnuts but I didn’t have any on hand)
  1. Line the inside of an 8-inch square pan with 2 lengths of parchment, allowing for excess to extend beyond the edges of the pan (this is how you will pull the brownies out later). Lightly butter the parchment. I used an 8×12 inch baking pan, which probably makes a thinner spread, and consequently, baking time is varied. 
  2. In a medium saucepan over low heat, melt the butter. Add the chocolate and stir by hand until it is melted and smooth.
  3. Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the sugar and vanilla until combined. Beat in the eggs by hand, one at a time.
  4. Add the flour and stir energetically for one full minute. (Accordingly “…this is important so time yourself. The batter is supposed to lose its graininess in this time, becoming smooth and glossy, and pull away a bit from the sides of the saucepan.”) After that, stir in the chopped nuts.
  5. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake in a pre-heated 350F/180C oven until the center feels almost set, about 30 minutes. Do not overbake. IMPORTANT: Since I used a different sized pan (8×12), mine baked for about 20 – 25 minutes  
  6. Let the brownie cool completely in the pan (be patient!) before lifting the parchment and the brownie out of the pan. I give it an extra window of time to cool out of the pan as well. Cut the brownie into squares.

Nutella and Chocolate Chip Bread Pudding

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For as long as I can remember, my mom and I were avid readers of Food Magazine. I’m not sure if it was the first of its kind in the country, but one thing was certain: it was the best. I was particularly glued to a column by its then editor-in-chief, called “Kiddie Cuisine” which showcases simple recipes designed for little hands in the kitchen. But most of the time when I was younger, I may or may not have let my mom do it and passed it off as my own.
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Food Magazine has grown over the years, with around two editorial board changes, but I’m glad that its first editor-in-chief, Norma Chikiamco, is still pretty much active in print, with her column appearing in the Lifestyle section of Philippine Daily Inquirer.

In one of her columns she shares a recipe for bread pudding which, according to her, is one of the best she has ever tried. It digresses from my usual take on bread pudding. For one, this recipe is more traditional in the sense that she doesn’t toast the bread. Toasting the bread gives it more texture and bite, which I like, but my mom doesn’t. And I was apprehensive at the amount of sugar the original recipe called for, because I’m always scared of making desserts too sweet.
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I tweaked this recipe a bit with the additional of NUTELLA, which has been my recent go-to, “out of the jar” snack when I’m craving for just one spoonful. Don’t judge. I essentially made nutella sandwiches using stale bread, sliced and shredded the bread into smaller chunks and allowed it to sit in the custard mixture.
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The result: a little too sweet for my taste, that’s why for this recipe I’ll put in the amount of sugar that I wish I could have used. But she was right – when allowed to cool for a while, but still very warm and toasty, it melts in your mouth like a custard, dripping with melted chocolate. Well, I’m not really a fan of chocolate if it’s not dark, so if you have a bar of your favorite dark chocolate on hand, use that instead of chocolate chips.
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I can imagine a better version of this that’s a notch lower in sweetness, peppered with melted dark chocolate. Nutella or no nutella, this is something special. Wait, I take that back, nutella makes everything more special.
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Nutella and Chocolate Chip Bread Pudding (Makes 12-16 servings; adapted from PDI Lifestyle)

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cup granulated white sugar
  • 6 eggs, slightly beaten
  • 3 1/2 cups fresh milk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup semisweet or dark chocolate chips/chunks
  • 16 – 18 slices day-old loaf bread
  • a jar of Nutella
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Lightly grease a 9” x 13” baking pan. Or, spray the pan with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. Spread nutella all over one sandwich slice and top with another slice. Repeat the process with all the slices. You will end up with 8 – 9 sandwichesPhotobucket
  3. Slice the sandwiches into smaller chunks, around 4 – 6 chunks per sandwich.Photobucket
  4. Using the whisk attachment of your electric mixer/hand mixer, “whisk” or “cream” the butter in a bowl. Add sugar, eggs, milk, vanilla extract and nutmeg.PhotobucketPhotobucket
  5. Arrange the sandwich chunks and the chocolate chips on the prepared pan.Photobucket
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  7. Bake for one hour or until it turns solid and the top is golden brown and crusty.
  8. Let stand a few minutes before serving. Best served warm.

This is completely unrelated but important nonetheless. Let me just put it out there that The Hungry Giant is rooting for Jessica Sanchez to win it all on American Idol! I’m rooting for her not just because she’s Filipino as well, but really because she’s the best. She deserves to win!

If you’re American, and you love The Hungry Giant, then please, do me this really big favor and vote for Jessica Sanchez. You’ll love her too, well, if you haven’t already. It’ll be a total shame, not to mention an upset, if she doesn’t win. I know, I know, win or lose she has a bright career ahead of her but seeing her take the crown this year  would be a victory on so many levels. Please?