And we’re off!

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That’s me pouring myself a glass of ice-cold coconut water after a nice early morning run. Idyllic, I know, but it comes with the perks of being home – everything can be so peachy. Finals ended a few days ago and I have one week to exhaust. That probably means I get to eat more, visit friends I haven’t seen in a while, eat some more, use the oven (!!!) and blog. This has been a long time coming.

True to form, the herbs have to be part of the updates.
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There’s basil.
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Basil.
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And more basil.

Who put basil with the rosemary? That seriously wasn’t there two months ago.
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The mint has been doing well, I guess. I broke off a rhizome last time for the good of propagation, and although it looks pretty fragile, I think this little one will survive.
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The tarragon has never failed me. The dill – that which became a tree, is still pretty much the same. I can’t say the same for the celery though. Apparently that’s the only herb my mom uses, and after a few snips, it finally keeled over.
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A few days before coming home I had a conversation with my mom and she asked me what I’d like for dinner (I took the late afternoon flight). Without any hesitation I told her “bihon!” (pancit/rice vermicelli), the way I know it’s supposed to taste. Then I followed it up by requesting estofado, something that I miss as well. These two are our party staples. When they are laid out on the table, it’s a special day. The pictures are for posterity; it was less elegant when I arrived the night before, but it was still a great meal. I ate like a boss.

The pancit has to be generous with the pork and chicken, with a savory quality  that compels you to have seconds, thirds and fourths. The estofado (pork and chicken stewed in tomato sauce), needs to be fork tender. The sauce must be thick. Both are heavy, hearty dishes, but I just love to eat them together until my belly can’t take no more. Mama Eng (my aunt) never ever fails to impress.
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And we’re off!

That quiet plot of land

For the past few months, I’ve been tending to a few herbs in plastic pots. I water them almost everyday, make sure they aren’t infested with pests, and spend a few minutes daily ogling at them. Watching them won’t hasten their growth, but it’s the uninterrupted quiet that I enjoy.

I started with basil, rosemary and mint. When I believed it was time to “expand”, I went online and found an herb garden in Laguna which ships herb pots nationwide. The shipping fee was exorbitant, but heck, I thought it’ll be worth it. I ordered tarragon, cilantro, parsley, celery, thyme, lavender and dill.
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When the LBC guy came and handed me a box with the ‘this side up’ pointing the wrong way…I knew I was in for hell. True enough, I carefully opened it and found soil everywhere, herbs haphazardly arranged, some damaged beyond repair. Only the tarragon, dill and celery survived. I’ve learned my lesson since then, and I resigned to the idea that herbs will always be a rarity here in my city.
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But thanks to a few people who pointed me in the right direction, the universe led me and a few of my friends to this little plot of land in Lantawan, Pasonanca that grows some herbs and salad greens that I can actually use.

It’s actually been a long time coming: a blog-friend, Charm, told me about this place a few weeks ago, but she didn’t know the exact location. Then a friend who works at the local television station whose weekly show actually featured this way back, asked around and found out it was in Lantawan. Next I found out that a former classmate of mine apparently lives nearby, knows that the place exists but hasn’t been there exactly. The final knock on the door came when my host-friend featured the organic garden in their show again, and well, this afternoon we FINALLY paid the place a visit. The universe was listening.
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The place is unassuming. Only a little placard that greets you at the entrance guarantees that you arrived at the right place. The place isn’t expansive, which makes sense because the market for herbs and salad greens isn’t a big one. But give it a few more years, and I have a feeling people will grow (no pun intended) to be more receptive.
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The weather was cloudy but extremely humid, which didn’t make for a pleasant trip. When we arrived, the caretaker told us to just go to their resto (another blog post about that soon!) if we wanted salad greens. It was pretty obvious that the place wasn’t in full harvest mode. There were more seedlings than full blown greens.
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Accordingly, the owners of the farm use organic farming methods to sow and reap their produce, which is always good. Slightly challenging, but good.
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Here’s the anticlimax: I didn’t take home any herb! Strangely enough, it didn’t feel like the right time to buy a pot or two. That’s probably my only explanation right now. Well, that, and I probably can’t use it all the time. Practicality trumps desire.
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But it wasn’t a loss. At least I got to see the place for myself, and I’ll probably point my mom to the garden where she can buy salad greens at a cheaper price, because she’s the salad buff. And corny as it seems, my search is finally over, I can finally say that I know where to get the herbs that I need for my own garden. The outside world probably can’t understand how the thought process of an herb enthusiast/grower pans out, but I know that you know what I mean.

And here’s a shoddy map to help you on your way. Thank you, Paint.
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(I live in Zamboanga City, Philippines)

Fresh pt. 2

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Because I documented the first few steps of my three herb pots here, it only seems right that I continue to chart their progress. I’m not even sure I have a green thumb, but the sweet basil, rosemary and mint haven’t died yet, so I think I must be doing something right – daily watering, and that’s just about it. After a few weeks, even I was surprised at how well they’ve taken to the environment!

The least bit temperamental of the three would have to be the rosemary. The soil doesn’t dry up as fast as the other two. And I have yet to experience problems with this one.
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On the other hand, the mint has been giving me a few problems lately. For one, starting out it was the only herb that has obviously been attacked by a few minute predators – as evidenced by the white specks on some of the leaves. It hasn’t been a problem for a while, only to be replaced by a new one – the leaves keep on shriveling up and dying. It’s almost become a daily habit of mine to pick off leaves that have turned yellow. Consider this as a meek cry for help. Is anyone out there?
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The basil has grown in height substantially. Small branches have become main stems in their own right, and I did notice a single purple flower bud perched on top of the apex. Now, it photographs well and is kind of pretty, but I’ll eventually have to cut that out because I part of basil care is removing any flowers that might grow because it would inhibit the leaves from growing.
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Because I don’t see any reason why I should stop myself, I’m beginning to consider expanding the ‘collection’ to include a few more herbs. The only problem is the herb grower (on sulit.com.ph) who I was counting on hasn’t been contacting me lately, so I have a feeling it’s a dead-end. That’s where you come in. Yes, you. I need a pot of parsley/kinchay. If you happen to know someone who knows someone who has a grandmother who knows someone who can send me a pot of parsley – I would appreciate it so much. This is a long shot but I’m counting on you. Yes, YOU!!!!

That’s all for now. Hopefully the next time I’ll be blogging about the herbs, the basil would have become a tree, the rosemary a burning bush and the mint would overtake us and wrap the house in its vines (which I know is impossible, because mint doesn’t have vines). And I’ll finally be tending to a little pot of parsley. 

Chicken Paprika

First there was pork, and now chicken. What’s up with me and meat in the first place? Well, I think I somehow explained that phenomenon with Peking Pork. I just love eating pork, chicken and beef. Most of my comfort foods are meat-based dishes, so in a sense I feel safe and secure when I eat meat. Vegetables are still there, but only when I’m in the mood. Don’t give up on me just yet. In an hour or so I’ll go back to my regular ritual of running, so there.
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Most days, I find myself staring at the pantry, looking at what’s inside as possibilities. But today I was stuck. This chicken dish was supposed to be swimming in artificial cream of chicken soup and salad macaroni if I had my way. But  it didn’t feel right. It was around 11:00 am and I still couldn’t figure out what to make. All I knew was I had chicken pieces defrosting on the counter and no inspiration.

But I think I spoke too soon because a second after I resigned myself to canned pork and beans, I thought “Chicken Paprika”. The planets have aligned. Then things went like clock work. It was so easy, it just made sense. It only needed a few ingredients and practically three steps to finish. When the clock struck 12, the kitchen really smelled great.
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The recipe called for butter, but I just used olive oil to cut down on the bad fat. I also went the extra mile and made gravy out of the oil and pan drippings! (Inspiration, you have knocked on my door again.)
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One thing though: you can do so much with this dish. Next time I might stuff it with garlic again, or marinate the chicken with salt and vinegar for a while to make it even tastier. I might even use butter! But for now, I’ll enjoy this as it is. Simple and straight to the point. It’s oven fried chicken, yo!
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Chicken Paprika (serves 6; adapted from The Best of FOOD Magazine)

  • 1 kg chicken legs and thighs
  • ½ cup all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons iodized salt
  • 1 tablespoon Spanish paprika
  • ½ tablespoon freshly cracked black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme (optional)
  • Olive oil to coat the bottom of the baking pan  (you can use regular cooking oil)

For the gravy, start with:

  • ½ cup water
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons flour
  • ½ – 1 chicken bouillon cube
  • Freshly cracked pepper
  • A dash of paprika
  1. Preheat oven to 425 F/220 C. Drizzle enough olive oil in the baking pan to lightly coat the bottom.
  2. In a shallow dish, mix flour, salt, paprika, pepper and thyme.
  3. Coat the chicken pieces with flour mixture and arrange on the baking pan, skin side down. Bake for 25 minutes.
  4. Turn pieces over and bake for another 15 – 20 minutes or until tender and juices run clear. Serve with rice and gravy. Enjoy!

To make gravy:

  1. Deglaze the baking pan by adding ½ cup water.
  2. Using a wooden spoon, scrape the bottom of the pan to release all the “remnants” of the chicken. These will contribute to the overall flavor of the gravy.
  3. Add around 2 – 3 tablespoons flour.
  4. Mix and transfer to a small saucepan. Over low heat, add half a chicken bouillon cube, and freshly cracked pepper and more paprika to taste.
  5. Adjust consistency by adding more water or flour, to your preference.
  6. Mix well using a wooden spoon. When done, remove from heat and serve with the chicken. Enjoy!

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Focaccia

Now I understand.
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There’s really nothing like the taste of freshly baked homemade bread. Your friendly neighborhood corner bakery is always there to supply you with all kinds of bread, but no, baking your own bread, though time consuming and tedious, is a achievement all on its own. It’s something special. Really special. Remind me to bake bread more often and be my own bakery. Well, someday.
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I made focaccia today. I was inspired by Beti’s (of Beti Vanilla) attempt at focaccia. It looked so great that I had to try it for myself. I wasn’t disappointed. It has no eggs, it’s crusty and dense. I’d like to believe that it can be likened to a blank canvas. It’s that kind of bread. You can go crazy and stud it with dried fruits or fresh herbs. Well, I didn’t go crazy with mine. I gently peppered it with dried rosemary to give it that rustic, “I could just lounge all day and munch on it” taste.
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It was a good thing that I didn’t go crazy. A few days ago, at the airport while waiting for my flight, I was perusing the stalls for pasalubong (something to give to the people at home), and luckily I gave Rajah Manila (Filipino delicacies) a chance. They happened to sell The Fruit Garden jams and I took home small jars of their mango-ginger and mango-lavender. An even, generous spread of the mango-ginger on warm focacia is a match made in heaven. After taking photos of the finished product, I rewarded myself with just that – a warm piece of happiness.
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It’s not really focaccia itself that I’m putting on a pedestal, rather it’s the experience of making freshly baked bread. It’s something else. Words can’t entirely capture the feeling. Just do it and you’ll understand.
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Cheers to a happy day (!)

Focaccia (makes 2 large buns; adapted from Beti Vanilla)

  • 2 1/2 c. of flour
  • 1 tablespoon dried rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar
  • 1 c. warm water
  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons of active dry yeast
  1. In a large bowl mix 1 cup of flour, sugar, yeast, salt and rosemary. Add olive oil and warm water.Photobucket
  2. Beat on medium speed using a hand mixer with the dough hook attachment (or a stand mixer if you have one) for about 3 minutes stirring enough remaining flour until the dough is soft.Photobucket
  3. Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and knead for about 8 minutes until smooth, adding more flour if necessary.Photobucket
  4. Place dough in a medium bowl greased with olive oil. Cover it with plastic wrap and let it rise in a warm place for an hour.PhotobucketPhotobucket
  5. When it rises deflate the dough and divide it in two shaping each half like a giant cookie. Put it in a prepared pan, add some olive oil on top and cover with plastic wrap. Let it rise for the second time. Preheat oven to 400 F/200C
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  6. Using your fingers, make small holes on the surface of the dough and drizzle some more olive oil, brushing it gently.Photobucket
  7. Bake them at 400°F/200 C for about 15 minutes – 20 minutes (do not over-bake) until light golden brown. Serve with jam or spread of choice. Enjoy!

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I was supposed to post this yesterday but the internet connection was prohibitive. Standby for my contribution to the food blogging community’s Chinese New Year celebration!