Filipino-style Spaghetti

Filipinos love their spaghetti sweet. That kind of preparation is as “pinoy” as adobo. Growing up, I would watch in awe as grandma would take out her large wok, and arrange the ingredients for the spaghetti on the table: lots of tomato sauce, ground pork or beef, hotdogs (it had to be Tender Juicy!) and the condensed milk. Yes, our household believes that the key to a great sweet spaghetti lies in the condensed milk. Let’s not forget the cheese. Lots of it. I actually thought that spaghetti is always prepared this way. Jollibee underscored it even more. But then as time and experience chipped a few notions away, I began to appreciate just how diverse pasta could be.

Lately my birthdays would always mean that paella would be the center of attention (aside from myself.ha!). But a younger me would be happy to see two or three pyrex dishes filled with spaghetti, generously topped with cheese. Even if pasta comes in various shapes, presentations and flavors…sweet spaghetti hits the spot because it tugs at the heartstrings.
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Just this afternoon, after my routine of taking a few photographs of the dish I made, I sat on the floor with a plate of my version of the good stuff grandma makes. There was something missing – the cheese perhaps. But that didn’t matter when I finished all of it. And the package of pasta says it was supposed to serve four. Let’s just pretend I’m not aware of that tiny detail.

It’s sweet, it’s savory, it’s a little fragment of home….it’s the spaghetti we all know and love.
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Filipino Style Spaghetti (serves 3 – 4)

The name alone couldn’t contain just how diverse the ingredients and methods Pinoys employ to make their sweet spaghetti. Just because it’s supposed to be sweet doesn’t mean you should go overboard. It has to have the balance of sweet and savory. I used smoked longganisa instead of ground pork, and coconut sugar as a “friendlier” sweetener.

  • half a bulb of garlic, minced
  • 1 medium-sized white onion, sliced
  • 175 grams pasta noodles, cooked according to package instructions
  • 1/4 cup salty, starchy water used to cook the pasta
  • 250 grams tomato sauce
  • 142 grams vienna sausage (I use Libby’s), drained and sliced
  • 411 grams canned diced tomatoes, with the liquid reserved.
  • 5 – 7 pieces sweet longganisa, sliced into bite sized pieces.
  • 3 – 5 tablespoons coconut sugar (or use brown sugar)
  • dried thyme, salt and pepper to taste
  1. In a pan, heat oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and onions and saute until onions start to sweat and garlic is fragrant.
  2. Add the longganisa and cook until the fat renders and it is starting to brown.
  3. Add the diced tomatoes together with the liquid. Add the tomato sauce and simmer until the sauce has reduced and has thickened. Add the vienna sausage.
  4. Mix in the sugar, season with salt, pepper and thyme.
  5. When the sauce has reduced, add the starchy water and raise the heat to high. Add in the pasta and mix well. Serve immediately and top with grated cheese (optional)
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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.

Ice Candy Duo: Lemonade & Milk Tea

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I had a lot of vivid memories growing up, spending lazy days at home, far far from the clutches of school – watching Dink The Little Dinosaur, flying kites with my dad, playing “tumbahang lata” with the neighbors’ kids, starting an aquarium more than once, all of which ended in massive extinction, and a particularly graphic scene of a little calamansi fruit, literally frying with the juice boiling on the concrete, under the scorching heat of the sun. Yes, summers are more fun in the Philippines.

My childhood summers are one of the sweetest moments of the life, particularly because I didn’t like going to school, and there was always something to do at home or outside. That was the good life. I didn’t care for anything else, except that I wanted to have fun. Going back to school  takes those golden moments away. It’s also a part of life (and a fact) that growing up pushes these memories aside, making room for new priorities, interests, and even friends.
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Moving on to happy thoughts…

Judging by the heat, the scorching  summer has definitely arrived. When I was growing up, summer also meant that ICE CANDY season has also arrived. Ice Candy, is basically any refreshing liquid of your choice, poured into thin, flimsy plastic ‘wrappers’ specifically made for ice candy, tied up and frozen. That’s it.
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How is it supposed to be eaten? You bite into and tear off a little piece of plastic from the bottom, then suck away. The heat from your hands will begin to melt the ice, and it’s a venerable treat to relish the liquid that’s slowly dancing in between liquid and solid. I can’t get any better than that.

Because I was a wee fledgling when the ice candy craze kicked in, making it involved teamwork. I would pour the liquid into the wrapper, and my Mama Eng would tie it all up and place it in the freezer. Sometimes, the neighborhood kids would help out as well. We’re tight like that. Then we would sell it for 1 peso a pop. One summer, the craze was so popular, every single household in our extension was selling ice candy! A classic ice candy flavor would have to be Milo. Fruits juices only ranked second.
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This month would mark my first attempt at joining Kulinarya Club’s monthly theme activity. I received confirmation of my membership around mid-February, and I’ve been looking forward to taking crack at the March theme: ice candy (thanks to Jun of Jun-Blog and Arnold of Inuyaki for this stroke of brilliance).

I put my own spin to this oldie-but-goodie by showcasing two flavors that I’ve fallen in love with recently: lemonade and milk tea.
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I’m not really a calamansi juice person, though I won’t mind if it’s liberally drizzled over a plate of palabok. There’s just something…cleaner and fresher about the smell and taste of lemons that takes me away from the humidity and unforgiving heat of the day. My mom’s lemonade ratio really hits the spot each and every time – the flavor of the tart lemons and the sweet sugar marries perfectly. I can finish a pitcher in one day.
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Milk tea has been a growing trend here in the Philippines and I’ve had my fair share of it over the past few months. But I’m proud to say that among the milk teas that I’ve tasted, Zamboanga’s own Zensonita (Zen-son-night-ta) is one of the best in my book. It shares the top spot with Gong Cha. That says a lot. Zensonita is unpretentious and serves it like it is, no gimmicks, no frills. Visit their store along Nunez extension and order all three bestsellers: original, tarik and strawberry. I tried to replicate their original flavor – basic black tea with a slurry of fresh and condensed milk.

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And as the song goes: “summertime, and the livin’ is easy”. Ice candy might as well be the songwriter’s muse, maybe even the perfect symbol.

Ice Candy Duo

Lemonade

  • 6 cups  cold water
  • 3 – 4 lemons
  • 3/4 cup granulated white sugar

Mix everything in a pitcher and allow to chill in the refrigerator.

Milk Tea

  • 4 cups water
  • 3 bag black tea
  • 1/3 – 1/2 cup fresh milk
  • 1/2 cup condensed milk, or more to taste
  1. Boil water in a pot over medium heat. Once boiled, remove from heat and add the tea bags. Allow to steep for 10 – 15 minutes or until a strong tea flavor is achieved. When done, remove tea bags. When cooled, transfer the tea to a pitcher.
  2. Mix the fresh and condensed milk together in a small bowl or cup. Add to the tea and mix well. Adjust the taste to your preference.

Make the ice candy:

  1. If you’re working alone, it’s best to have a mug/cup with you. Place the plastic tubes/wrappers inside the mug with prop it in such a way that it’s resting on the rim of the mug/cup.Photobucket
  2. Use a small funnel to pour the liquid in, filling the wrapper a little over halfway to 3/4ths full. Take the excess plastic and tightly twist it to compress the liquid inside. Use your fingers to roll the excess plastic until it’s toothpick-thin, so it will be easier to twist.Photobucket
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  3. Twist the excess plastic around your finger, and loop it around to make a knot. Repeat the process until you have your desired number. Freeze until firm and enjoy!Photobucket

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    The 3rd one from the left is what you'll get when you won't twist the excess plastic enough

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Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cheesecake and Streusel Topping

If there’s one recipe that brings back a lot of great memories – it has to be Red Velvet cupcakes. This was probably one of the first recipes, the first cake/cupcake recipe that I tried with stellar results. It was around mid-March of last year that I made a really great Red Velvet, as a response to Julie Ruble of Willowbird Baking’s call for a cheesecake challenge. I made Cheesecake Stuffed Red Velvet cupcakes with Streusel, and that pretty much set the bar on how I want my Red Velvets.
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March last year was a great month for me. Coinciding with the production of these great cupcakes, I really started to solidify my love for cooking. The last few posts in my old blog were devoted to food. The pictures, though not as great as I wanted it to be, reminded me of the baby steps I was taking.

Last year, I had around two weeks without anything to do after my final exams, so I cooked while waiting for my graduation. Graduating with honors left me with an incomparable high that took time to abate. And I’m glad I had to review for my licensure exam and put my blog on hold because that just made me go into food blogging more determined to put myself out there. I said goodbye to my old blog and here I am, reincarnated so to speak.
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And personally, out of all the recipes on my blog, I’m really happy that I get to share this one the most because, well, I love it so much. It has been a long time coming.

No Red Velvet I’ve tasted so far comes close (immodesty aside; hey, I don’t brag a lot). This time, however, after much thought, I decided to not to use Julie’s recipe and use Ginny Roces’ Red Velvet recipe from her book, Bake Me A Cake. There are a few subtle differences between the two recipes, but I just really hoped Ginny’s red velvet recipe would be as good as Julie’s.
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The verdict: after increasing the amount of chocolate needed, I’m really pleased with the outcome. For those of you who have tried Julie’s recipe, this is just as good. For those who have yet to make a red velvet, well, this is a perfect recipe to pave way for a fruitful love affair with the little cake flavor that could.

Moist crumb, with the perfect hint of chocolate, this was another crowd pleaser.
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You can forego the streusel, but I just think that streusel + cream cheese + red velvet is the one. Everything is done for good measure after all. And seriously, this is something full of good measure.
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Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cheesecake and Streusel Topping (makes around 35 – 36 cupcakes OR two 9-inch round cakes; adapted from Bake Me A Cake by Ginny Roces de Guzman)

Cream Cheese Filling

  • 1 cup/ 8 ounces (227 grams) cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup (65 grams) granulated white sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Streusel
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter, cubed

Cupcakes/Cake

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/3 teaspoon salt
  • 3 – 4 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 cups butter (I used 1 cup/1 block butter AND 1/2 cup vegetable shortening)
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 1/2 cups evaporated milk
  • 2 tablespoons red food coloring (liquid, like McCormick)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  1. Make the cream cheese filling: In your electric mixer, or with a hand mixer, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add the sugar, egg, and vanilla extract and beat until creamy and smooth. Set aside in the refrigerator.
  2. Make the streusel: In a bowl, combine the ingredients together and mix well. Using a fork or a pastry cutter, “cut in” the butter pieces into the flour and sugar mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs. Set aside in the refrigerator.
  3. Make the cupcakes: preheat oven to 350 F/180 C. Line a 12-piece cupcake tin with paper cups/liners. If you’re baking cake, line two 9-inch round baking pans with wax or baking paper.
  4. Using a fine mesh strainer, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cocoa powder in a bowl.
  5. In a bowl, beat the butter with an electric mixer until light and creamy. Add the sugar gradually and continue to beat until light and fluffy, around 5 – 10 minutes. Add the eggs and the egg yolks one at a time, while continuing to beat until well mixed.
  6. Combine the evaporated milk, red food color, and vanilla in a bowl. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour mixture and milk alternately to the butter mixture. Scrape down the sides of the bowl to make sure the batter is thoroughly mixed.
  7. Pour the batter into the prepared tins, until halfway up the sides. Resist the urge to overfill. Using a tablespoon, add the cream cheese mixture on top.
  8. Two methods in adding the streusel: Method 1 – You may choose to add it immediately prior to baking. This partially melts the streusel and you are left with a few coarse crumbs on top (which is still pretty good). Put it in the oven and bake for 20 minutes, or when a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the center of the cupcake.
  9. Method 2 – After adding the cream cheese topping, place the pan into the oven and bake for around 5 – 7 minutes, or until the batter is beginning to rise. Remove from oven and sprinkle streusel over the batter. Return it to the oven and bake it for around 15 – 20 minutes more, until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the center of the cupcake. This will yield cupcakes with a more generous, prominent streusel topping. This is more taxing but if you’re after the streusel, then it’s really worth it.
  10. When done, remove from oven and allow to cool slightly. Serve warm or cold and enjoy!

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