First feast

Photobucket

Now it can be told: my days whizz by when I’m in the kitchen. I mean, I could kind of remember the sun hitting my face when I opened my eyes and I found myself on the early morning flight back home. Then…everything was a blur. There were good snippets of course: hosting a dinner for my friends, two charity events with the same people, Christmas lunch, and the micro-feast we had this morning. In between these events I was cooking up a storm, making sure time was blurred. In a few days I’ll be back in Manila and I hope I can make the most of the borrowed time.

A neighbor died today, January 1st. I’d like to believe he died a happy 79-year old man. “Life is too short”, his wife told us when we visited. Amen. We might as well enjoy the ride.

In the thick of things I found myself hitting the stress button more than once this morning when a few things didn’t go my way. But all was well, and I still couldn’t believe I put together almost all of what was on the table. Yay me.

Photobucket

The spread:

Now I would consider this paella pretty fancy – with the arborio and saffron. But I still crave the one my Mama Eng usually makes with regular rice and malagkit/sticky rice, with that nice color that only cheap atsuete can give! Recipe here. For two years now we’ve had paella for New Year. Not too shabby!
Photobucket
Photobucket

Chicken Galantina
Photobucket
Photobucket

homemade ham – recipe here
Photobucket
Photobucket

The ribs look glorious if I do say so myself.

Not all the meals I’ll have this year will be grand (I might even skip a meal or two). But I intend to enjoy this year in the company of good people and even better conversations. Let’s put ourselves out there! Happy New Year everyone. 🙂

Advertisements

It’s Christmas Day!

Photobucket
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.
Photobucket

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.
Photobucket

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.
Photobucket
Photobucket
Photobucket
Photobucket
Photobucket
Photobucket

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.
Photobucket

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”.
Photobucket
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.
Photobucket

I think I hear the choir of angels breaking out in song.

So this is Binondo

Photobucket
I’ve always wanted to explore Binondo (Manila’s Chinatown) before the year ends and I’m glad that I got to cross one item off my proverbial bucket list last week. It’s strange that sometimes I think commuting can actually deter you from going on the actual “journey”. Case in point: it took us two hours to get to Quiapo (the adjacent iconic bargain shopping district, has a train station and is a stone’s throw away from Binondo) because Manila’s traffic was especially harsh. The usual throng of commuters from dawn until dusk is commonplace, but it’s something I need to get used to.
Photobucket
Photobucket
Photobucket
Photobucket
But the journey was worth it, although with all the conviction in the world I can say that the trip barely scratched the surface. Next year we intend to go on one of those food tours because as much as Binondo should be seen, it also must be tasted.

The funny thing is the real reason why we went to Binondo is for me to buy ham from Exelente, another icon in Chinese hams, or so they say. Although I found out that reviews are mixed, my chef instructor raves about it, so I assumed that to buy one was already worth the hassle of the trip. And the cosmic joke of the day was Exelente’s shop is in Quiapo, not Binondo! All I had to do was consult google and of course I didn’t do it. The trip to Chinatown wasn’t a waste of course, since our heavy lunch at Wai Ying kept me happy. As a lover of sio mai, their offering didn’t disappoint. Of course the dumplings have to be good! The duck could have been more tender, since a good piece of duck cooked properly just sings.
Photobucket
Photobucket
Photobucket
Photobucket
Photobucket
After lunch, when we were still looking for Exelente (the crucial bit of info came much later), it was only natural for us to travel on foot to offset what we ate (a natural rationalization). I took a few random photos here and there.
Photobucket
Photobucket
Photobucket
Photobucket
Photobucket
Then after three random inquiries (we were skeptical with the first two) that confirmed that the ham was in Quiapo, off we went. Getting there was easy, since people actually knew where Exelente was.
Photobucket
Photobucket
Photobucket
Photobucket
I admit, I was amazed.
Photobucket
Photobucket
Photobucket
The boneless hams cost roughly 100php/100 grams.

The hams are pricier that what you would normally see in the groceries, because after consuming 90% a kilo in three days (YEAH), it was pretty obvious that Exelente’s hams are legitimate meat, and are a notch higher in taste. The holiday season must bring out the best in these hams. But I’m still on the look-out for other brands that are just as good or even better.

So there you have it. This trip is really the tip of the iceberg and now that I know what’s in store for me next time, I’m more than excited to dive head first in a food tour come 2013. It’s going to be a good year, I feel it in my bones!

Excelente Ham, Inc
155-157 Carlos Palanca Sr. Street
Quiapo, Metro-Manila