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.

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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Chicken Roulade

I’ve been home for a few days now, and by home I mean this little dusty town of Zamboanga, far far away from the chaos of Manila. Being home for the holidays makes me all giddy because I have more than a few plans for Christmas dinner and all the lunches, dinners and meriendas leading up to it. This will probably be my longest holiday ever (3 weeks), and God knows if and when I get to come home next year so every moment has to count.

I brought home a few cookbooks with me, and because of that I had to dole out more than a thousand pesos at the airport because my baggage exceeded their weight limit. Lesson learned. But to have them with me during the holidays means I get to soak up as much inspiration as I can. I’m currently leafing through Saveur’s compendium of The New Comfort Food and already I’m listing down the things I can cook. Larousse On Pastry would be my go-to for desserts, and I can’t stress enough how important it is for me to make a decent cheesecake this year.

Memories of Philippine Kitchens, the one by Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan (owners of Purple Yam in New York) would have to be my favorite simply because I was there when they launched the revised edition at Powerbooks, and I got to have my copy signed. That was an awesome moment. And already I’m thinking of their recipe for ube/purple yam tarts.
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Before I’m knee-deep in cookbook recipes, for Sunday lunch I felt that there was a nagging need to replicate something that my chef instructor demonstrated in school. Chicken roulade sounds and looks fancy but it’s actually very simple to make. It’s just rolled up chicken breast y’all!
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I’ve always preferred dark thigh meat over white meat because the latter can get really tough when not cooked properly. The only real way to have juicy chicken breast is to cook it just enough and when it’s cooked just right, it’s really good. I could have gone the extra mile by making sauce from scratch, but there were people to feed and like me, they get really cranky when they’re hungry. And true to form, it was a great lunch.
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Chicken Roulade (serves 2 – 3)

  • 4 chicken breast fillets, butterflied (click here for a tutorial)
  • bacon strips
  • a few pieces of basil
  • 1 medium-sized white onion, chopped
  • half a bulb of garlic, minced
  • 1 – 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 284ml can cream of mushroom
  • 3/4 – 1 cup water
  • mushrooms of your choice, sliced (I only had canned button so I went with that)
  • salt, pepper and thyme
  • parsley, chopped for garnish
  • kitchen twine (or if you don’t have one, you can use toothpicks)
    1. On your work surface, season the butterflied breasts with a little salt and pepper.
    2. Then add a single horizontal layer of bacon strips to cover the breast. Top it with a few basil leaves.Photobucket
    3. Carefully roll the fillets starting from one side going to the other (essentially, left to right). Secure it by tying twine near the ends. Season the rolled fillets with salt, pepper and thyme.Photobucket
    4. Heat enough oil to cover the bottom of your pan. Make sure the oil is very hot before you add the chicken. Carefully add the chicken, and allow to sear. When one side is already golden brown, sear the other side. At this point, you don’t want to cook the chicken through and through, you just need a beautiful sear.
    5. When the chicken has been browned enough, remove from pan. In the same pan, add the onions and the garlic and saute.
    6. Add the flour and stir everything together until you create a light roux (mixture of flour and fat). Cook for about a minute over medium heat, stirring occasionally.
    7. Add the cream of mushroom and the water. Stir everything together. Bring to a boil and let it simmer. Adjust the taste to your preference. Add the mushrooms and the chicken.
    8. Cook for about  5 -6  minutes until sauce has reduced slightly. Remove from heat, garnish with parsley and serve with rice or mashed potatoes. Enjoy!

Potato and Bacon Gratin

 I’ve been asked so many times how it feels to grow up having no brothers and sisters. At the top of my head I say it’s great: you get all the attention, financial and emotional support. I consider myself lucky. But there are some setbacks – I think about what could be, what could have been, and that’s when I feel the pang of loneliness. Don’t get me wrong I don’t wallow in it…I just want it sometimes. Then I wake up and reality sinks in. I might not have the biggest family, but I’m still happy and thankful.

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This afternoon we visited our loved ones at the cemetery. It’s nothing grand. The scorching heat expedited our trip, but before we left, we said our prayers, lit our candles and left our flowers. I looked around and saw more than a few tombstones unkept, with the paint virtually gone. Clearly they were forgotten. It’s a sad sight really. I know this is getting heavy, but I just need to put it out there: I don’t want to be forgotten. I want to live a full life and all the frills attached to it and still be remembered by the people I left behind.

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Yeah, I daydream a lot. I think about the things I can do, will do and should do. Sometimes I ask myself how I want people to remember me, what legacies I leave behind. I’m being romantic here, but I do want to be remembered because of my food and company, which go hand in hand.

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I made potato gratin yesterday and I wanted to savor that moment. The funny thing is, the first time I made it for class, it was undercooked. I’m happy that I have the luxury of time to make sure this heavy, hearty dish is cooked perfectly. It’s a thing of beauty in its simplicity.
With the same desire of not being forgotten long after I’m gone, I don’t want to forget the moment I opened the oven and just knew everything made sense and fell into place. I was vindicated.

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Potato and Bacon Gratin (serves 4 – 6)
  • 600 grams potatoes
  • 1 medium-sized red onion, minced
  • half a bulb of garlic, minced
  • 4 strips of bacon, sliced into small pieces
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • parmesan cheese, to taste
  • nutmeg, to taste
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  1. In a pan, melt butter over medium heat. Add garlic and onion and saute until fragrant. Add the bacon and render the fat.
  2. Mix in the flour and keep on mixing until it becomes thick, almost like a paste (you’re making a roux). Once the flour-y taste has been cooked off, add in the milk. Stir to incorporate everything. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.
  3. Season with salt, pepper and a little nutmeg. Add the parmesan cheese and adjust seasoning. Remove from heat and set aside.
  4. Preheat the oven to 180 C/350 F. Peel and eye the potatoes. Carefully slice the potatoes, around 1/16th of an inch, like potato chips.
  5. Place the potatoes in the sauce pan and carefully mix together to coat all the slices with the sauce. Reserve a few bacon bits.
  6. Arrange the slices on a 10-inch pie plate. Once done, top it with more parmesan, bacon and sauce. Cover with foil and bake in the oven for an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes, or until potatoes are done.
  7. Remove from heat, slice into individual serving pieces and serve warm. Enjoy!

An Easier Boeuf Bourguignon

There’s this really amazing food blog that constantly fills my google reader with almost daily posts – Ang Sarap. That in itself is a feat because the voice behind it, Raymund, a fellow Filipino residing in New Zealand, is a working man whereas yours truly is currently bumming around (that’ll all change SOON) and I can’t even muster up the gumption to post frequently lately. His blog is filled with recipes I wouldn’t mind trying every single day, so early on I was sold.

Ang Sarap is currently hosting guest posts from food bloggers all around the world, and I’ve been fortunate enough to be part of that tight circle. My guest post is currently up on his site, so you might want to check it out.
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Before I left for Manila I made Boeuf Bourguignon for a cozy dinner among friends. A few hours prior, I was staring in front of the black hole that is my pantry, trying to figure out what to cook. I’ve been known to hoard ingredients that I don’t get to use often. So sifting through everything was a challenge. Making a simplified version of Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon was always at the back of my mind. The last time I made it was for Christmas lunch, which was a hit with the family.

This time, I stripped it down until I was left with the core ingredients of beef and wine, and whatever remotely related to bourguignon was left in the fridge and pantry found its way into the pan.
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(excerpt from the guest post)

But is what I made still Boeuf Bourguignon? I implore you to never second-guess this dish! Bourguignon or not, it’s still something incredibly special.

This still requires a few hours in the oven to cook, BUT if you ask me, I think cooking this in a pressure cooker for an hour would do the trick. I would do that eventually once I get my hands on a pressure cooker. Sometimes what we would do at home is to pressure cook the raw beef then place it in a container and just leave it in the fridge. When we need it for quick soups or stews, then it’s good to go!

I stumbled on a goldmine when I dotted the dish with butter before I placed it in the oven. Your kitchen will thank you. For a servant-less Filipino cook like me, this might as well be godsend. 

I wish I could make this dish soon but the tiny kitchen I have right now is making it a challenge. I’m still in the process of easing myself into this new lifestyle in the big city so you might notice that it’s been quiet here at THG lately. But because Manila’s food culture is amazing, you might see more of what I ate than what I cooked.

But for now, with a spoonful of nostalgia and homesickness, here it is….Boeuf Bourguignon 2.0
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An Easier Boeuf Bourguignon (serves 3 – 4)

  • 500 grams beef rib eye
  • 115 grams canned whole or sliced button mushroom
  • 1 large white onion, chopped
  • 1 beef broth cube dissolved in 1 ½ cup hot water
  • ¾ cup red wine (use wine that you would drink)
  • 6 bacon strips, roughly chopped
  • ½ tablespoon dried thyme
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3 teaspoons all purpose flour
  • Small cubes of butter

In a large nonstick pan, heat olive oil over medium heat then add the bacon. Fry until fat renders. Remove the bacon and set aside. Pat the beef dry with paper towels. Season one side with salt and pepper. Using tongs, place the rib eye on the pan, seasoned side down. Season with salt and pepper the side facing up. Cook both sides until it starts to brown. Remove from pan and set aside. In the same pan, sauté the onions until limp. Add the mushrooms and sauté for 30 more seconds. Using the spatula, nudge the onions and mushrooms to the sides of the pan, and then add back the beef and the bacon. Add the beef broth water and the wine. Season with thyme, salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle in the flour and gently mix everything together.

Preheat the oven to 200C. Place the pan in the oven and allow to cook for 2 – 3 hours or until beef is tender. Remove from the oven and adjust the taste to your preference. Serve warm with rice or buttered toast and enjoy!

French Toast

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It’s funny how a blog friend of mine, Jenn, made french toast when she got back from her vacation, and here I am making french toast just before I’m about to leave for mine. This isn’t any monumental move, just a ridiculously long road trip that will occupy my weekend. It’s 1:00 AM and we’re leaving at 3 o’clock. Sleep isn’t an option if I want to stay ‘sedated’ throughout the trip. Road trips and I, don’t mix.

Anyway, french toast!
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I’m not a breakfast person, and when I do get to enjoy a good breakfast, I would usually go for the classics: fried rice and fried processed meat. Delicious. It’s been ages since I made french toast, and I forgot how heavy, luscious and filling a single slice can be. I had two, or three. With maple syrup, because Molly Wizenberg says so. After a few forkfuls drenched in golden sauce, I don’t think I can have it any other way. The really fat kid who used to make french toast every Saturday is back, hungrier than ever.

A bad habit: we buy more bread than we can consume. I can’t tell you how many times we had to dispose of  loaf bread that was barely even touched, because the mold has taken over.  For this batch, I may or may not have used bread that had the slightest, tiniest speck of mold. I won’t admit it.
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But suppose I did, then I would give myself a pat on the back for giving the poor bread slices a new lease on life, even just for a few minutes.

Hopefully the change in scenery will do me some good, and with the lingering taste of this morning’s french toast still dancing in my mouth and making me hungry at 1:30 in the morning…I’m off.
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French Toast (this is pretty much verbatim; adapted from Orangette serves 2 – 4)

1 cup milk
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon salt
Mild-tasting vegetable oil, such as canola
6 – 7 slices bread (I used a plain white loaf)
Pure maple syrup, for serving

Whisk together the first five ingredients in a wide, shallow bowl.

Place a large skillet, preferably cast-iron, over low to medium heat, and add enough oil to just cover the bottom of the skillet.

Two or three at a time, add the bread slices to the egg mixture in the bowl, allowing them to rest for a minute or two on each side. They should feel heavy and thoroughly saturated, but they should not be falling apart. When the oil is hot, place the slices in the skillet. They should sizzle a bit, and the oil should bubble lightly around the edges of the bread; take care, however, that the oil is not too hot, lest the egg mixture burn. Cook until the underside of each slice is golden brown, about 2 minutes. Turn the bread, and cook until the second side is golden, another 2 minutes or so. Remove the bread from the skillet to a plate lined with a paper towel, allow to rest for 30 seconds or so, and serve immediately—with maple syrup, of course.

Poached Apples

Even after I made my apple cake, I still had a surplus of apples. Damn the flaming desire to perfect the apple pie, which eventually died out. As they say, I still got to  my cake and eat it too because I managed to make poached apples today.

But we’re not really hardcore apple lovers. Our “family” merienda (snack) is actually “sareala” – banana slices poached in coconut milk and muscovado sugar. Think guinataan/ginataan with only the bananas. Hello, Filipino friends, I know you understand me. Hello, readers all over the world, Wikipedia’s amazing isn’t it?
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Anyway, even if that’s the case, I can imagine poached apples blending in seamlessly at the family table after a heavy meal. The apples obviously have a natural sweetness, so even if it’s swimming in syrup, a little spoonful of heaven can be had without it.
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Like poached apples, let’s keep this simple and sweet: this is great stuff. I didn’t have vanilla ice cream but it’s alright. Maybe next time. No, definitely next time.
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Poached Apples (adapted from yummy.ph; serves 6 – 8 )

  • half of a vanilla bean or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 6 cups water
  • 2 dashes of cinnamon
  • 4 medium-sized Fuji apples, peeled then sliced in half
  • a pint of vanilla ice cream (optional)
  1. Combine red wine, sugar, water, vanilla and cinnamon in a medium sized stockpot.
  2. Add the apples and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove pot from the heat.
  3. Cool the apples in poaching liquid until room temperature.
  4. When cool, set apples aside. Return the liquid to a boil and reduce until a syrup-like consistency is achieved.
  5. Place apples on a plate with syrup, and serve as is or with vanilla ice cream if desired. Enjoy!