It’s Christmas Day!

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By the time you read this, you’re probably just reeling from a deluge of holiday cheer. The Christmas season brings out all the fun and insanity that spills on all over whatever it is you’re preparing for the ones close to your heart. The days leading up to Christmas have been zany, to say the least. Sometimes I just wish I could take a backseat and just let other people do the work for me, because sleep is something I’d love to do right now.
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But no, this Christmas is pretty special for me. There’s a force that brings me to the kitchen to make sure I make the most of the moment. It’s Christmas and I’m home for the holidays and on vacation, because my life is different now. It’s more chaotic, vastly different and really fast-paced. Deciding to shift careers has exponentially changed me. Home is more special and meaningful, simply because I don’t get to see my family that often. I love being home.

While I was in the kitchen, slaving away for two days straight just to get a dinner with my friends just right, I’ve been listening to Christmas songs mom loves to play. That’s one of the things I miss so much, because as early as November her holiday collection fills the house with songs both familiar and obscure. I’ve heard a lot of voices (better than mine of course) sing about the good old days, childhood Christmases and simpler times. I find so much joy in that because it makes me warm and fuzzy, a refuge of sorts. Thinking of that makes me feel safe like a little kid.

Right now there’s a stew in the oven, iced tea brewing on the stove and another ham curing in the fridge. Yeah, “another” ham, because the first one didn’t make it to Christmas day because it was so good. So there’s going to be ham on January 1st.
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But days before the festivities have already begun, when I invited a few friends over for Christmas dinner. We had roast chicken, gratin, pureed squash, salad with homemade mayonnaise, seafood with garlic butter, and of course…ham. I blame them for finishing the ham. Oh, and Julia Child’s chocolate mousse.
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The bulk of them are either working as nurses or studying to become doctors. I can’t believe I could have gone either way if I stayed. It’s all good, at least it could still be a useful friendship. I kid.

It was a great night of food and shallow conversations. It’s comforting to know that despite paths diverging, nothing has changed.

So here’s my Christmas gift to you, because it’s not too late to make that ham for the dinner you’re planning for the New Year. You need five days to cure this, but the patience is worth it. Trust me. I will probably never buy commercial ham ever again.
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From my kitchen to yours, may your feasts be delicious and conversations hearty. As Amy Besa would put it, “cook with much love and passion, and serve with generosity”.
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Homemade Ham (serves around 10)

1.5 kg pigue/leg, deboned and skinless

Brine:

  • 1.5 liters water
  • 250 ml pineapple juice
  • 1 tablespoon + 1.5 teaspoon curing salt/prague powder
  • 1 cup iodised salt
  • 1 1/2 cup brown sugar (or use a combination of brown and muscovado)
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • a few cloves

Braising liquid

  • 3/4 cups brown/muscovado sugar
  • 4 cups pineapple juice
  • 1 cup water
  • a few cloves
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic

In a really large bowl/container, mix all the components of the brine together. Add the pork and cover with cling wrap. Let it cure in the fridge for 5 days. When done, drain the brine and run the pork through running water to wash away the excess saltiness. In a pot, combine ingredients for the braising liquid, heat it to a boil and reduce to let it simmer. Add the ham and braise on low heat for four hours or more on the stove or in the oven. When ham is tender, remove from the pot and allow the liquid to reduce until thick. That will be your glaze. Adjust the taste with pineapple juice and sugar, because it may get a little salty because of the ham.

When ready to serve the ham, pre-heat the oven broiler to around 180 C. Sprinkle a little brown sugar and glaze on the fat of the ham. Place it in the oven and allow the sugar to caramelize, around three to five minutes. When done, remove from oven and slice the ham to serve.

And if I’m being totally transparent, I went the extra mile and finally, FINALLY, lived a childhood fantasy. Commercial hams are actually pretty good, but that thin layer of fat on top doesn’t seem like a lot for a very hungry child who loves pork fat. I bought a kilo of pork belly and cured and cooked it the same way. This was the finished product. A glorious slab of pork belly ham.
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I think I hear the choir of angels breaking out in song.

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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

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.
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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.
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But I did take a page out of Julia Child’s cookbook.
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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 (!).

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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!

9 mornings: Adobong Puti/White Adobo

(I was supposed to post this yesterday (the 2nd day) but the internet connection was prohibitive (CRAPPY) so in the spirit of making things work, here’s the second installment of my novena posting :D) 

So it’s the second day of Misa de Gallo and I’m still here, surviving. What makes these rituals tricky (for me that is) is the fact that I’m NEVER a morning person.  Once in a while during the mass I find myself thinking of other things just so I can escape the heavy blanket of sleep. I admit, sometimes I look forward to the mass ending just so I can catch a few winks again. Not a morning person at all.
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But really, the mass ending means you “wake up” to a considerably nice cold morning. My mom and I walk to and from church so taking it all in, it’s a far cry from the humid weather we get to experience for the rest of day.

It is during these moments that breakfast becomes, well, more special. It’s during this time that I do get to eat breakfast at 6 am instead of a heavy compensatory lunch. Just like how the pleasantly clean cold air greets us outside of the stuffy church, the smell of really good adobo with a steaming bowl of rice greets us when we get home. This is my holiday right now. I know, adobo is as festive as Amanda Clarke is forgiving, but like I said, adobo for breakfast is part of our Misa de Gallo mornings. It makes sense really, since breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It can be/needs to be satisfying and heavy to help get you through the rest of the morning. Adobo is heavy, true that.
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It’s weird that I only got to talk about adobo just now, after months of posting. Do I worship adobo? Yes! Adobo is one of those survival dishes that people can’t screw up. It has a lot of variations, most of it according to preference. Each region probably has different spins on this classic one pot Filipino dish as well. Salty and sour meat paired with hot rice is a combination that’s really difficult to topple.

And maybe that’s also one thing that connects adobo and Simbang Gabi – both are so Filipino that without either of the two, I can’t call it Filipino anymore.

An adobo variation I really like is Adobong Puti/ White Adobo. It’s called that because it doesn’t use soy sauce. Instead you may opt to add fish sauce to give it that saltiness. I also like my adobo without the liquid/sauce, so I reduce the liquid until the meat is practically being fried in the rendered fat. Whether or not it’s the holidays, adobo makes for a really great breakfast.
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Adobong Puti/White Adobo (serves 6 )

  • 1 kg pork (belly or paikut)
  • 3/4 – 1 cup vinegar
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 whole garlic bulb, minced
  • 4 – 5 bay leaves
  • 2 pieces fresh oregano leaves
  • 2 tablespoons patis/fish sauce (or more to taste)
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp freshly cracked pepper
  • optional: a dash of red pepper flakes
  1. Combine everything in a pot. Bring to a boil.
  2.  Reduce heat and allow to simmer for 45 minutes – 1 hour or until pork is tender and liquid has almost been reduced completely.
  3. For good measure, because the fat will render at this point, I brown the meat slightly to give it a more pronounced toasted aroma.
  4. When done, remove from heat and serve immediately with a heaping bowl of rice. I mean it, a heaping a bowl of rice.

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9 mornings: Milk Tea

(I spent the entire morning figuring out our internet connection problems and I’m exhausted moving mountains just so I can type this. Things aren’t OK just yet, but here I am blogging about it, so the universe must love me somehow)

It’s become a religious custom here in the Philippines to attend Misa De Gallo/Simbang Gabi/Novena Mass (that lasts for 9 days, hence a novena) to honor the Blessed Virgin Mary in anticipation of the birth of Jesus. It’s a religious obligation/family tradition/great way to observe the Christmas season in the country that supposedly celebrates Christmas the longest – as soon as the -Ber months roll in.
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Because I’d like to assume a more “active” role as a food blogger (hehe), I’m putting my own spin on my holiday posts! Inspired by the Misa de Gallo, starting today until the 24th, it’ll be a (hopefully) steady stream of holiday/Misa de Gallo inspired dishes. I know, it’s a tall order. Much like how I don’t know if this will be my year – as in the year I finally complete the novena for once, I also don’t know if I can complete this project. But with fingers crossed, I believe there’s hope for me. Tiny miracles can happen.
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Is milk tea a traditional holiday drink? No, of course not. But since I’m a fan and I told you that I was on the search to find the right tea:milk proportion, I guess now is the perfect time to share my own version of milk tea. It’s punched with spice from a little star anise and cardamom. Spices are tricky because add too much of it in a drink and you basically have cough syrup. So my advice is go easy on the spices. But what makes this perfect for the holiday is the fact that it’s spiced. The aroma brings back memories of fruit bars laden with candied fruits and spices. Is it indulgent? No, it’s really light and easy and that’s what I love about milk tea.
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It’s not traditional, yes. Heck i’m not even sure if this is the orthodox preparation for milk tea! But consider this your opportunity to start your own holiday traditions, unorthodox or otherwise.
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Basic Milk Tea

  • 3 bags of black tea (I used Lipton)
  • 3 cups water
  • 5 tablespoons evaporated creamer/milk (I used Angel evaporada)
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup condensed milk
  • Spices: cardamom, star anise, cloves, ginger, etc. (I used 1 cardamom pod and 1 star anise)
  1. In a small pot, bring water to a rolling boil.
  2. Add the tea bags and the spices and immediately reduce the heat to let the liquid simmer for 2 – 5 minutes, depending on how strong you want the tea to be. Remember you are adding milk so a stronger tea flavor is best.
  3. When tea flavor is achieved, remove from heat.
  4. Strain the liquid into a blender. Discard
  5. Add the evaporated and condensed milk. Blend for a few seconds. Adjust taste according to preference.

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Christmas Lights

The night air is thick with the smell of a great barbecue, and I’m practically playing Coldplay’s “Christmas Lights” over and over in my head. All around I see bright little dots (that sometimes I take for granted) and for the first few minutes, I stare in awe…

And then I realize it’s almost Christmas. Then I break out into a bigger, goofier toothy grin. (more to come!)