Simple pleasures

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I don’t make bread often, and it’s only when I’m home that I get full reign. Making it made me appreciate just how amazing freshly baked, homemade, handmade baked is. As soon as it’s done, I let it cool for only a little bit. I then scramble for minced garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper and chili flakes – my dip of choice, with no balsamic vinegar. I heat all of that a bit, just so the flavors infuse.
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I slice through the bread, the exterior is hot and crusty. Steam billows out, it’s definitely fresh. The inside is pillow-like, riddled with holes – just right.

I pick up a crusty slice, dip it in the garlic oil, take a bite and just allow a moment of silence to sink in. Reverence is at play here. There is joy to be had from eating something made from scratch in all its humanity. It’s simple. It’s good.

You have to eat and enjoy bread while it’s still warm and crusty. Now more than ever I understand.
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I’ve been hit with the realization that there are certain things and people in this world, like good bread, that are just too good to last forever.
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Life is beautifully and painfully short. Although it’s painful to know that Jad’s life was abruptly and unjustly halted, I can find comfort in the idea that he was in a good place in his life when he died. He realized what fulfilled his days, and until the last minute, he was chasing his happiness.

Let’s make bread while we still can.

Mini walnut baguettes

makes 15 – 16 pieces

adapted from King Arthur Flour’s baguette recipe

For the starter:

  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon instant dry yeast
  • 1 cup bread flour

For the dough:

  • 1 teaspoon instant dry yeast
  • 1 cup to 1 1/4 cup lukewarm water
  • 1 starter recipe
  • 3 1/2 cups bread flour
  • 1 – 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnutes
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

In a medium-sized container, combine all the ingredients for the starter and mix. Allow it to rise and bubble at room temperature for 14 hours. 

When ready to make the bread, to the starter, add in the water, olive oil and brown sugar. Mix together.

In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients for the dough. Make a well at the center and add the starter mixture. Mix together. If you’re using an electric mixer, handle it with the dough hook. Otherwise, knead it by hand, until it starts to become smooth. Let the dough rest in a generously floured bowl for 20 minutes. Resting it will relax the gluten more, hence cuts down on fermentation time later. Afterwards, knead until dough is smooth and supple. Place the dough back into the bowl and allow it to rise for 45 minutes, or until the dough feels airy when lightly poked (it may be less than 45 minutes). Afterwards, to remove some of the gas that has formed, “fold” the dough by bringing/folding the top part to the center, then doing the same with the sides, then folding the top part towards and over the bottom. Let the dough ferment for another 30 minutes.

When done and if you’re going to add the nuts, knead it now then press down on the dough, and roll it like a log. Divide it into around 40-gram pieces. Shape each piece into a rough ball and let it rest for 5 to 10 minutes. Then shape each piece into a roll by flattening the ball, folding the bottom part towards the center, then doing the same with the top part, then finally folding the top over the bottom. Seal the seam by flattening it with your palm. Then roll it into a tapered log, with both edges slightly slimmer than the center. Transfer it to a baking sheet with a silicone parchment. Lightly dust each piece with flour. Allow it to rise for 20 to 30 minutes. It’s best to place them in the oven when they’re not completely proofed, because they rise more in the oven. While the bread is rising, preheat the oven to 220 C.

With a sharp paring knife, diagonally slash (“score”) each log 3 times (because baguettes have odd numbered slashes). Lightly dust with flour again, then place it in the oven. Prepare an aluminum tray with some water and place it below the rack where you’re going to place the baguette. The steam with help the bread rise. My oven came with a detachable tray placed at the bottom of the oven that’s supposed to catch drippings, so I used that. As soon as I placed the trays of bread in the oven, I poured water on the tray and that became my steam source.

Bake for 25 – 30 minutes or until a nice golden color is achieved. 

First feast

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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.

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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!
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Chicken Galantina
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homemade ham – recipe here
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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. 🙂

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.

The joy of homemade mayonnaise

Sometimes I think I get too much sleep and even that isn’t enough. The bed is my refuge, my perfect excuse to just lounge around and do absolutely nothing productive. It’s gotten me into trouble loads of times – more than anything else, it goes perfectly well with my habit of procrastinating.

Coming home was perfect timing, according to my mom. I went home last Saturday and the day after was the start of the morning novena masses leading up to Christmas (misa de gallo). Waking up at 3:30 in the morning just so I can properly get ready at 4 is a challenge. We come home after the mass and I just plop myself on the bed and the next thing I know, it’s already lunch time. Ah, the life of a bum. I’ve been there, done that and got the shirt but maybe there’s a part of me that wants more shirts.

But I try, God knows I try to make breakfast count, whether it’s eggs en cocotte (eggs baked in singe serve ramekins), my default brekkie when I’m in the mood or toast with whatever spread is available. Coming home fresh from cooking school does have its perks – I find myself working faster, knowing and doing more. If only I can keep everything orderly and clean (close to impossible).
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There’s joy in being able to make things from scratch. Homemade mayonnaise just sounds so fancy, even if it isn’t. It’s labor intensive and since I have yet to try shortcuts, a lot of elbow grease and arm work is needed. At least it’s a semblance of working out. The key is to just keep whisking, keep whisking, keep whisking, while adding the oil little by little by little.

Mayonnaise is a mixture of two unmixable liquids, in this case oil and vinegar, and whisking creates that emulsion. So far I’ve been making it for two consecutive days now, and strange as it sounds, I actually like the arm work that goes into it. It just goes so well with ham, salad greens all over a single slice of toasted bread. It’s the open-faced sandwich of the season. Mom uses the mayonnaise in her salads and I’m thinking of making a spread out of it soon.
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Like I said, getting myself out of the bed can be a struggle, but if it means being able to revel in whatever finite satisfaction a good breakfast with the family holds, then it’s worth it. Making mayonnaise from scratch is also worth it.
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Mayonnaise

  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon prepared dijon mustard
  • oil (around 1/2 – 1 cup, I prefer to put it in a squeeze bottle because it’s more convenient)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • honey, optional

In a bowl combine egg yolk, vinegar, mustard. While whisking vigorously, add the oil a little at a time. Repeat this process until the mixture begins to thicken and emulsify.Photobucket

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

Chicken Korma + Homemade Garam Masala

Today’s the day before Ash Wednesday and aside from that, “International Chicken Korma Day”. I just made that last part up, for lack of other uninteresting things to say. So let me just get right to it.

I got this recipe from Rasa Malaysia, an Asian food blog that I’ve been following for quite some time now, really because I consider it one of the best Asian food blogs out there. Bee Yinn Low, the woman behind RM, brings together cuisines from almost every nook and cranny in Asia – even the occasional Filipino delicacy.
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Since I’m still building myself up as an amateur cook, it makes perfect sense to try to expand my repertoire with dishes from the Asian neighbors. And today I made my first “almost authentic” Indian dish.

I’ll be the first to admit that since Filipino cooking is not heavy on exotic spices (think cardamom, coriander, cinnamon, cumin…), sometimes the aromas of Indian (and also Muslim) cuisine, because of their lack of subtlety, can be off-putting. But of course, I’m one that enjoys the spice and heat that comes with the territory. In moderation, it’s not really a problem with me.

Most of the Philippines is familiar with Chicken Curry, and Korma is essentially a curry, but according to Rasa Malaysia, “Korma, also spelled as Khurma or Kurma, is a milder form of curry and is distinguished from other curries by its rich gravy and smooth texture, mainly because of its heavy incorporation of yogurt as part of its main ingredients.”
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Here in Zamboanga, a virtual melting pot of cultures, predominantly Christian but with a strong Muslim presence (partially because of its proximity to Malaysia) we are familiar with the kulma, and what I made approximates the familiar taste of what we know as curry laden with the trademark spices.
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This doesn’t have curry powder because the recipe called for Garam Masala. Because I didn’t check with our local delicatessen if they had it in stock, well, I made my own spice mix thanks to the wonders of the internet. It’s not difficult as long as you have the ingredients on hand. Heck, it’ll be easier to buy it from a generously stocked grocery, but I went the extra mile today because I had to.
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I say this a lot with my dishes, but I can really imagine myself making this again because it tastes great. Like estofado, I enjoyed eating the korma knowing that the “soup” or sauce has almost dried out, envelopes the tender chicken pieces and has become almost gravy-like. Well, that’s just me.

“Almost authentic Indian” aptly describes what I made today, and really, you either go big or go home. With my homemade garam masala, I guess I’m not going anywhere anytime soon.

Chicken Korma (Chicken in Rich Yogurt Curry) (serves 4 – 6; adapted from Rasa Malaysia)

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 kg chicken leg and thighs, cut into pieces
  • 4 tablespoons oil
  • a dash of cinnamon
  • 4 cardamons
  • 4 cloves
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 8 black peppercorns, lightly crushed
  • 1/2 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 1/2 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 3 – 4 tablespoons liquid seasoning (or more, to taste)
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce (optional; that’s why I called it “almost authentic”)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Marinade:

  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons Garam Masala (recipe follows)
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder or paprika
  • 1 cup (250ml) plain yogurt, lightly whipped
  • 3/4 – 1 cup coconut milk (I had a 200ml tetra pack so I used that)
  • 2 large red onions, sliced and fried

Method:

  1. Marinate chicken with Marinade ingredients for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
  2. Heat up wok with 2 1/2 tablespoons oil, stir-fry the items listed under Ingredients, except liquid seasoning, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper and let the whole spices to sizzle a bit until fragrant.
  3. Toss in the marinated chicken (with the marinade) and continue to stir-fry for 10 minutes. Add the liquid seasoning, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Turn heat to medium-low, cover the wok and cook for 40 – 60 minutes, or until the oil slightly separates, chicken is tender enough and you have achieved the gravy consistency that you prefer. You may add water if the sauce dries too quickly and if the chicken is still not cooked through.
  5. Season with salt and pepper. When done, remove from heat and serve with rice. Enjoy!

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Garam Masala (makes around 1/2 cup)

  • 2 tablespoons coriander seeds
  • 2 tablespoons whole cardamom pods
  • 2 tablespoons whole black pepper corns
  • 1 teaspoon whole cloves
  • 2 tablespoons ground cumin seed
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  1. In a skillet or a nonstick pan, over medium low heat, add the whole spices – coriander, cardamom, black peppercorns, cloves. Allow to toast for about 10 minutes until they take on a darker shade. You may stir it occasionally.
  2. When done, combine the toasted spices with the ground ones – cinnamon, nutmeg,  cumin in a mortar and pestle. Pound until the whole spices have been crushed and the mixture has become one cohesive powder. You may use a food processor or a coffee grinder.
  3. When done, store it in a dry container. You don’t have to put it in the refrigerator. It will keep for 3 months.

If you’re in Zamboanga and you’re thinking of doing this, I bought my cardamom from La Tienda (call them if they have it in stock) and the coriander from the spice and candy store near Mindpro’s grocery entrance, beside Bloomingdale’s. All the other spices can be found in the spice aisle of Mindpro’s grocery.