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.

Where Am I?

Hello there. If you’re a regular visitor here, you might notice the “slightly” new look. Well, my below average photoshop skills were thankfully not used in editing the new header photo above. It’s just me, my trusty Panasonic GF1, and a day in the life of a culinary school student.

If I’m being totally honest, I’ve felt disconnected from my blog more than once. My priorities have somehow shifted. I’m a living irony. Here I am, kicking ass and getting my ass kicked in cooking school, and the blog doesn’t have a lot to show for it. But I’m not apologizing because I’d like to believe there are a lot of pressing matters that need my attention more, like: sleep, online food deliveries and averting failure.

But I miss it. I miss having time on my hands to just peruse through food blogs to extract inspiration. I miss the regular people who make their presence felt each and every time (I’m talking about you, J. :D) And most of all, I miss the comforts of cooking at home. Don’t get me wrong…moving and shifting my career did me so much good, but you get what I mean. I hope.

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I’m a guy who likes to connect residual memories with an item’s face value. The old “look” THG had was a picture of easier, more convenient days doing nothing but cooking and baking. Everything isn’t the same anymore.

I had a bad day today. We all have bad days, I keep on telling myself that. And the funny thing is, instead of sleeping on it, I decided to write again, because I know this is probably the only way I can feel something familiar again.

What you have before you know is probably an indicator of things to come. The ground I’m walking on right now is shaky. The blog feels the disorientation because when I think about what to post, I feel like a noose is trying hard to suffocate me. I’m trying too hard. That’s probably the point I’m driving at.
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Maybe I’m just lost right now. But that doesn’t mean I’ll never find my way back home. I’m in pain (literally, because I burned my hand), but that just means I’m alive. That’s gotta count as something good, right?
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Speaking of home, the photos were from a family outing at the beach when I went home a few months ago. I also made clam curry, and my dill weed became a tree. I know, the photos don’t mesh well but I just miss home so much.

Fresh 3.0

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Okay, it looks like somebody hasn’t been trimming the dill

I realize I’ve been relatively silent for long stretches lately, and the last time you’ve heard from me, I painted a picture of myself trapped inside my unit, probably surrounded by the rain and flood. The storm has since left the country, and as luck would have it, I’m also home for the weekend. Home. My hometown..you know, the one I left for greener pastures and whatnot. It’s only for the weekend, because not only is my country peppered with erratic weather, but it’s also peppered with convenient holidays.

The first thing I do is jump on the bed and relish a few uninterrupted moments of doing absolutely nothing, without having to lift a finger for anything. I take in everything around me and I decide that nothing, and everything has changed if it makes any sense. The bits and pieces that make up my life are still there, haphazardly strewn around, but given my current situation (cooking school is amazing, by the way), the tables have turned and home becomes the vacation…the heavily anticipated escape from reality. It’s pretty surreal.

With the exception of my mom, nobody knew I has coming home so there were more  than a few pleasantly dumbfounded looks when I stepped inside the house. She made my aunt prepare a personal favorite, bicol express, which is essentially ground pork, string beans, eggplant and chiles stewed in coconut milk. I miss dinners like that. The flight I was on was delayed for a few hours so it was a really late dinner and airplane food is expensive.

And I made sure to have a glass of ice-cold coconut water before going to bed, for full effect. It was a great night.

As if nothing has changed, the following day I went back to my usual ritual of checking on my herbs first thing in the morning. Before I left I did leave a few reminders to ensure their survival. And just for the heck of it, I also sowed two pots with a few basil seeds, with the hope that maybe, just maybe, they’ll take off.

And took off they did!
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ain’t it cute?

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the tarragon is bushier

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the celery has survived!

The mint hasn’t been doing well.
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This morning, I broke off a rhizome (a little underground stem) and planted it in a new pot with the same intention. I might come home for the Christmas holidays, so this is me crossing my fingers that mint would live up to its reputation of growing and spreading like crazy.

Of course, you’ve met the dill, which has become a tree at this point.
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That’s it for now. My weekend isn’t supposed to be jam-packed and stressful because that would defeat the purpose of  having a mini vacation, but that doesn’t mean I’m rolling in the doldrums. At least, I hope I’m not!

Masterchef AU All-Stars has also been keeping me company and like home, is also making me feel warm and fuzzy. Kumar (Season 3) inspired me to make something with a few choice shellfish we have here. Stay tuned for that! But for now, while things are still uncomplicated, I’m running with it. If you’re as lucky (or luckier!), you should too. (toothy grin)

Hello Hong Kong (part 5)


The weather’s gloomy. Like my mood. It’s our last day in Hong Kong and a part of me doesn’t want to leave. A part of me loved the metropolis that was fast paced like the movements of people in and out of the MTRs yet interestingly slow, like steamed dimsum…as you open that bamboo steamer, a soft cloud of steam billows and blankets you with that distinct scent that I couldn’t really put my finger on.

But I wasn’t sad anymore when we went down to the buffet area. The hotel’s breakfast buffet was amazing. The croissants were freshly baked – flaky, like Macau’s egg tarts. That taste will linger in my tongue for a while. Buttery, velvety, melt in your mouth awesomeness. Google, give me a recipe already!


And this time, I won’t really rave about Hong Kong Ocean Park per se. I didn’t really experience the rides that much because all of us were tired and it was blisteringly hot.

I’m just happy that we went to the The Panda Cafe because I HAD PEKING DUCK AGAIN! This time it was a combo with the poached chicken (pictured here).

And these panda shaped custard cakes were nice to look at, but I didn’t really care for the taste.

It was a physically exhausting day. We were riding the MTR on our way to Austin Station when we were contemplating on going to Mong Kok to shop for cheap clothes. But no, it was too much for us already. Luckily the guide at the hotel told us that we just had to walk out of the front doors, go straight and we’ll be at the Temple Street night market in no time. So at least it was a good alternative. I was glad that we had the chance to experience that facet of Hong Kong – hole-in-the-wall restos and the bustling retail air.

The hole in the wall we went to was pretty amazing, simply because a single family owned the whole expanse of the area where food was being served.


Cream Soda – if only I got to take a 6-pack of that home with me. I could make butterbeer in no time.

Scallops with black bean sauce. This was so good. It was my first time to try scallops and it had this meaty texture that I liked. It wasn’t slimy at all.

And I forgot who insisted that we have the Sweet and Sour pork – something to remind us of home. Pffftt fine.

Yang Chow fried rice. In hindsight, it was oily and bland, but we were so hungry. So it tasted absolutely delicious.

And yeah, we bought a few things here and there. But I wasn’t really impressed with the night market finds since the items among the stores were a bit repetitive. And one store actually had this interesting sales person.

And that’s basically it for the night. My last night in Hong Kong was a good one. Heck, every day was amazing.

So what did I choose to do to cap off the experience?

Of course, I just had to drink milk tea! I had the Green Tea and my mom had the Earl Grey. I liked the Earl Grey more – it had this nutty flavor to it that was nice and smooth. But I’m still a believer of all things Green Tea.

It was a great four-day vacation. We managed to squeeze in the things we needed to see and do. Though we couldn’t really explore what other wonders Hong Kong had to offer but the four days were a wonder in itself.

And I went home with so many pictures and so many memories. The best part about it was that the tastes of what I ate still lingered in my mouth. I miss the Peking Duck already, the meat of which felt like I was eating lechon. I’m still craving for the stir-fried eggplant I had at the Plaza Inn in Disneyland, which I think I can replicate. And I’m obsessed with the flaky texture of Macau’s egg tarts and the croissant I had for breakfast.

Despite the trip being physically exhausting, the beauty of it was that at the end of everything, there I was – a wide eyed little child, taking in the sights, allowing the milk tea to soothe my bones and spirit. The feeling still lingers.

And the scent I keep talking about? Well, I finally found it. At least, I hope I did. It was a light bulb at the same time a “no duh” moment. When I opened the spice package and smelled it, I knew that was it.

And it’s called Chinese Five Spice. Go figure.

Hello Hong Kong…and Macau (part 4)

Getting there was slightly hazy. I remember a bus ride, going inside and not seeing a hotel lobby but designer stores in its place. The next thing I knew, we were whisked outside where it was already dusk and lo and behold, more designer stores (and designer stalls/carts) and the famous Venetian (almost) gondola rides.

My mom was wondering what will happen to the stalls when it rains because we couldn’t see any form of protection from the elements. And we were floored when our tour guide told us that the sky isn’t real. It’s still the ceiling, and the plaza was in perpetual twilight. Wow.

After taking the scene in, I was immediately drawn to the gondola rides. The ones manning the boat were not Italians, but I could hear them belt out the lines of “Un Sole Mio” pretty well, like how an Italian would do it, albeit a notch lower.  We just had to try it. We were in a gondola together with this young Japanese couple on vacation, and it was a fun ride with them. The girl was so upbeat and jolly and so….Japanese. (haha)


After the gondola ride, we were pretty hungry so we just had to find a relatively cheap place to eat. And relative to every resto there, McDonald’s it was. They served a Grilled Chicken Barbeque burger which isn’t available in the Philippines so there was a definite need to try it.

I thought it tasted ok. It wasn’t that sweet as I expected it to be; it was more spicy and savory. But it was filling enough.

The experience of going to Macau itself was amazing enough, but alas, we had to go back to Hong Kong. Tomorrow was going to be our last day.

And I really don’t know what’s the best way to end my series, so need a day or two to compose the final part. 🙂

To be continued

Hello Hong Kong…and Macau (part 3)

First off, I’m sorry for my lag between posts. I’d like to believe that there’s still the continuity with my posts, despite being held back a day or two. So where were we?

Ah, yes. The Best Part.

I woke up shivering. The AC was turned up to the highest point, and I think it rained a bit during the night. So the window was foggy and covered with dew from the outside. But that only fazed me for a minute, because I know today would be a great day.

We decided that for today, we’ll go visit another Chinese territory: Macau/Macao. I was psyched because my mom told me it’ll be like travelling from Singapore to Malaysia – we have to go through the process of long lines at the immigration counter, since apparently Macau and Hong Kong are two special administrative states which are autonomous-ish. Go figure.

Since we were billeted in a hotel that had a view that was basically city on one side and water on the other, it was natural for the harbor to be located a block away from where we were staying. We just had to walk to…..of all places, a mall, which housed/had the pier for the ferries that leave for Macau. I don’t really have anything to say about the ferry except for the tiny detail of me feeling sea sick. Do not take the First Ferry, take the Cotai Jet if you’re high maintenance (haha), and stay calm while you’re dealing with ticket operators which don’t really have patience for people who can’t speak Mandarin. They can go semi-ballistic so keep your poker face ready.

We arrived at Macau, extremely hungry. It was around 2pm and we still didn’t get a proper meal for the day. So our tour guide (Yes, it was necessary to get a tour guide in Macau, and no, we didn’t have a tour guide when we were in HK) took us to a hotel (I think it was called Mocha) which had a food court in one of its floors. Apparently hotels are the lifeblood of Macau – there are exhibits, casinos, stores and food courts all rolled into a building.

And what could be better to quell my hunger than to have a bowl of rice, topped with what I have been waiting to devour since I got to Hong Kong: Peking Duck.

That was a meal to remember. It was amazing. Basically Peking Duck is roasted duck, hung out to dry, marinated with flavors I have yet to comprehend (please, somebody help me!).

The skin, was juicy, slightly crispy and fatty and had this intense flavor to it that came from the flavorings used. As for the meat, well, ironically it didn’t taste like chicken. It had an earthy flavor to it, it was succulent, very meaty without a lot of fat.

And I realized what it reminded me of – lechon meat. No, not the fatty meat, but the lean meat without a lot of fat. It wasn’t tough at all. It had this slightly chewy yet soft texture to it. I heard that overcooked duck meat is leathery, so I was glad it was not that all. And they serve it with a side of Bok Choy (not in picture), which was a nice addition as well.

Forgive me for just posting the rest of the pictures of what my mom and ninang ate. Nothing could top the epiphany my mouth just had.

Next stop – The Ruins of St. Paul’s cathedral. Getting there was nice because we had to pass through a slightly narrow street jam-packed with people. The buildings were an eclectic mix of Spanish and Chinese, from run-down to modern.

The cobbled streets really made me feel that even if nothing escapes time, there are just some things that will never go out of style. And it was lined with stores selling everything from food, souvenirs to clothing. It was lovely chaos.

Despite the fact that I’ve just been to one of Macau’s most iconic landmarks…there was one icon that I was more excited about:

Go figure. I just had Peking Duck, I was on a roll.

Now, let it be known to the world, that Hong Kong Disneyland’s egg tarts could never hold a candle to what I just ate. It was….just so good.

The egg custard filling was soft and velvet-y with just the right amount of sweetness. And like HK Disneyland’s egg tart crust, Macau’s was puffy, crumbly and had this melt in your mouth deliciousness.

Now it was time to go “hotel-hopping”. I mentioned awhile ago that hotels were the go-to places when tourists visit Macau. I like that idea of swanky snooty hotels being built to offer attractions and free admission for people who just want to look around.

One of the hotels, I’m not sure if it was the Wynn or The Grand Lisboa, had the Dragon of Fortune show. There’s basically a large circular area with a big dome in the center. When it’s time, the dome opens, smoke billows and out comes a larger than life mechanical dragon.


And the ceiling, which we thought was just for posterity, opened to reveal a digital fire show.

Our tour guide said we didn’t arrive in time for the better show: the Tree of Prosperity which was according to him, more beautiful than a larger than life scary dragon.

At the end of the day, the highlight of the trip, aside from the Egg Tarts, was most definitely…..the Venetian Macau.

And this is where I scream “cliff hanger!!!”

There’s too much for me to talk about that I didn’t have it in me to cram all of it into one post. So…

(please don’t hit me)

To be continued.

Hello Hong Kong (part 2)

We woke up with a great view of Hong Kong in all its, well, morning glory.

So what was in store for us today? It wouldn’t be an authentic trip to Hong Kong without experiencing what it’s like to take the MTR/Mass Transit Railways from point A to point B. We were a few short steps away from Jordan station. To get there, we had to pass by this bakeshop which had these……cute little treats. My regret is that I didn’t even get to taste it. We passed by this bakeshop almost everyday. And I didn’t get to taste a single mousse. F***.

Tricycles are our mode of transportation here in Zamboanga, and I don’t really have the luxury to go to Manila just to ride their MRTs (haha), so the naive little child in me was looking forward to the beautiful, fast paced metropolitan chaos that is the Hong Kong subway.

So our destination for the day: Hong Kong Disneyland. Getting there was interesting, to say the least.


Before I actually set foot in its hallowed road, I had this idea that Disneyland is so overrated, that it’s just an amusement park with rides that I don’t really get to appreciate since I have been cursed with easy motion sickness.

But lo and behold, it’s not overrated at all. And I know the cliche lives on when I say that I felt like a kid again. Really, there’s truth to the magic.

Surprisingly, I managed to overlook the fact that it was so hot and that the crowds and queus never end. Because for a day, I was like a little child, left alone in the toy store. I felt like I was reliving the magic moment when Disney channel was a major chunk of my childhood. Yeah, I was that wide-eyed and naive.

Our first stop was the souvenir shop, and it was a deluge of Disney. For a moment, I just had to restrain myself from grabbing everything they had.

My favorite souvenir?

Need I say more?

It was my ninang’s birthday that day (she celebrated her birthday in HK Disneyland, pretty cool), so we were treated to lunch at The Plaza Inn. According to the brochure it’s the resto inspired by the movie “Mulan”, so it’s basically authentic Hong Kong cuisine, albeit expensive.

Noodles on top of fried noodles was a first. I actually enjoyed the dish. It had a subtle savory flavor that I really liked and if I could order it again and again I would.
The braised eggplant was tasty as well. Actually the noodles and the eggplant had the same flavor. Its sauce reminded me of the Chinese Nido/Egg Drop soup sold in powder form in the markets; well, I think it actually was Chinese soup.

And it was my first time to try soft shell crab. They served it with a powder that really tasted like salty shrimp chips. The texture was great, and looking back, it was the first time that I managed to really eat a whole crab. The last attempt was not so stellar.

And these pork dumplings were supposed to look like goldfish. They looked way better in the menu card though.

My pet peeve with the experience of dining in Hong Kong is that it was the second time that we used small plates! I’m huge, I don’t appreciate eating in small portions!

After lunch, we went outside and we were just in time for the parade. The parade at noon was apparently something that shouldn’t be missed as well. It was sweltering hot so we just armed ourselves with plenty of sunscreen, but I think it was to no avail. The instant tan was worth it in the end though – the parade was fun.

After we bathed in the noonday sun, we went to the corner bakery and lo and behold, the desserts were practically Mickey Mouse on a plate.

PLUS, it was my first meeting with the famous Egg Tarts, something that I’ve always wanted to try apart from the amazing Peking Duck.

The verdict on the egg tarts? The tart that I tasted was kind of undercooked – the filling was still a bit runny and it was more tart than it was sweet. On the other hand, the crust was amazing. It was a puff pastry that just crumbled and melted in my mouth. But little did I know at that time that it was Macau’s egg tarts that would rock my world.

The New York cheesecake was pricey, but good. I was halfway through devouring the little mound of Mickey when I already felt full and couldn’t eat anymore. But as usual, I go the extra mile, even when I’m full. 🙂

An interesting fact: the castle in the center isn’t actually Cinderella’s, it’s Sleeping Beauty’s! Thus the iconic castle we see in the beginning of Disney movies is not a fixture of HK Disneyland. Go figure.

So when we went through the castle and into Fantasy Land, I realized that the park’s area is pretty small. I’ve always had this idea that it stretched on and on, but actually, you can walk around the whole park in just a few hours.

We didn’t really go to Disneyland for the rides, except for Space Mountain. Space Mountain was amazing, but traumatic and I swear my brain was jarred because of all the twists and turns. I’d be crazy to take pictures while I was suffering.

We just had to reward ourselves after surviving Space Mountain with ice pops. I had the green tea ice cream pop. Because I have this obsession with green tea in milk,  I really felt good after eating that.

Now for the attractions: the only things that I can really really really rave about are the Philharmagic in 3D and the 9pm fireworks display.

The Philharmagic in 3D basically follows the exploits of Donald Duck, as he accidentally activates Mickey’s magic baton/wand that transports him through time and space and into the iconic scenes of different Disney movies. It’s funny that I had my first 3D experience outside of the country; I didn’t even get to try IMAX yet (haha).

Disneyland at night is something that must not be skipped. The streets look amazing, with all the bright lights and bustling activity. I didn’t have trouble taking pictures since there was enough light.

Basically the moment that tourists all stay for is the fireworks display at Sleeping Beauty’s castle. At around 7pm you can see people sitting on the street infront of the castle, all wanting the best seat in the house to view the pyrotechnics. We sat on the benches near the fountain, practically infront of the castle. So I’d like to believe that we had the best view.

The fireworks display goosebumps-worthy since it was choreographed along with music. The first few lines of “A Whole New World”, sung by a children’s choir (not physically there though, just the music) punctuated by the first few explosions of color in the night sky was breathtaking – I had this wide goody smile throughout the presentation. I didn’t even notice anything else; time just flew by.

The little kid, at the end of the night, was happy. 🙂

To be continued….