Posted in Home Baking, Home Cooking, Uncategorized

In Which There is a Pizza for a Weeknight Dinner…

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The “Before” Shot

I don’t work full-time anymore.  These days, I work as a consultant for the corporate governance advocacy I was working full-time for about a month ago.  It’s a healthier set-up, really: I don’t have to weather through the increasingly chaotic traffic of the Greater Manila Area five days a week and I don’t have to be cooped up in an office for the greater part of my day.

It is a schedule that has improved my health: I sleep better now and I am able to keep my stress down to a tolerable level.  Also: it’s given me more time to work on my poetry, the novel that has remained stalled for weeks, as well as cooking and baking.

The last one has led to a greater amount of experimentation in the kitchen: not just for special occasions or weekend dinners, but for weekday meals, as well.  And so, this pizza…

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The “After” Shot

The crust for this is different from the schiacciata base I normally make from Nigella Lawson’s How to be a Domestic Goddess recipe which calls for baking the pizza at a high temperature first, then lowering the temp for the last two thirds of cooking.  This recipe is a much simpler one from Penny Stephens‘s What’s Cooking: Italian.  Less flour is involved and you only need to cook it at a constant, middling temperature.  The resulting crust is pleasantly crispy at the edges, deliciously fluffy and chewy within.

The topping I used features two ingredients with a smoky flavor profile: tinapang bangus (hot-smoked milkfish) and char-grilled eggplant.  The meaty smoked milkfish acts as a foil to the sharp yet sweet tomato sauce I used as a base and the eggplant adds a welcome, somewhat bittersweet nuance that was quite satisfying.

I also added olives for a salty zing and capers because they go so well with fish.  You can skip the capers, if you like.  But please keep them in; I insist: they make this already interesting dish more appealing.

This makes for a light but satisfying meal, particularly if served with a good soup (from scratch, mind you; the additional effort is worth it) or a crisp, fresh salad.

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Serve with a good soup made from scratch

Tinapizza

For the Crust:

  • 350 grams all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 250mL water
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 packet (7g) instant/fast-acting yeast

For the Topping:

  • 1/2 cup cooked and flaked tinapang bangus or any hot-smoked fish
  • 1 medium-sized Asian eggplant, peeled
  • 1 cup tomato sauce
  • 1 red onion, sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1/2 a chicken or fish bouillon cube
  • 2 tablespoons Italian seasoning or 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil and oregano
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 cup sliced olives
  • 2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained (optional)
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup additional grated cheese (mild Cheddar or mozzarella)
  • 2 tablespoons water

Heat the water and 1 tablespoon olive oil on HIGH in the microwave for about 45 seconds.  Combine the flour, sugar, salt, and yeast in a large mixing bowl.  Make a well in the center and pour in the water and oil.  Mix well.  Dust your hands with flour and knead the dough for 10 – 12 minutes until it forms a smooth ball, dusting with more flour from time to time.  Cover with a clean dishtowel and leave to rise in a warm, draft-free place for an hour.

Grease a lipped cookie sheet; set aside.

Grill the eggplant or cook in a large, ungreased frying pan until charred, blistered, and tender all over.  Allow to cool for a few minutes, then chop coarsely.

Heat two tablespoons olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat.  Saute the sliced onion until softened.  Add the garlic and cook until the garlic has browned a little at the edges.  Add the herbs and cook till fragrant.  Add the bouillon, cook till it has dissolved, then add the eggplant and tomato sauce.  Thin the sauce a little with the water and bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer and cook for about ten minutes; add the brown sugar and stir until it has dissolved.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool for fifteen minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees / Gas Mark 6.

Punch down the risen dough and press into the prepared cookie sheet.  Cover and leave to rest for ten to fifteen minutes.  Uncover the dough and evenly spread over the sauce.  Evenly scatter over the smoked fish, olives, and – if using – capers.  Evenly scatter over the cheeses.

Bake for 20 minutes.  Turn the oven off at the end of baking time but leave the pizza inside for an additional ten minutes.  Remove from oven and slice into sticks.

Serves 8.

Posted in A Girl at Lunch, Restaurant Hopping, The Flavors of Asia

In Which One Encounters the Nicest Bánh Mì

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Take a bite…  It’s all right…

Bánh mì is actually something of an ambiguous culinary term.  In Vietnamese, it just means “bread” – as in any kind of bread, but most likely the baguette-like buns introduced by the French when they held sway in Indochina.  However, thanks to the Vietnamese diaspora scattered throughout the world, a bánh mì is known to be a small baguette sandwich loaded with everything from rustic liver pate to bits and bobs of unique Vietnamese charcuterie even to such oddities as chicken and pork floss.

I’ve had bánh mì in a number of local Vietnamese restaurants but, by far, the most authentic – and possibly the tastiest – has to be the Traditional bánh mì from Bon Banhmi.

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As you can see, it’s loaded.

This sandwich stand started out with a single shop in San Antonio Village, the heart of Makati’s foodie hipster zone.  It has since branched out and has outlets throughout the Makati area.  The one closest to me is actually on the twelfth floor of the GT Tower along Ayala Avenue but it offers virtually everything from the original – including a real Vietnamese sandwich mistress running the stall.

Whatever sarnie you choose, though, you can expect it to be good; excellent as a matter of fact.  Craving beef?  They have one with grilled beef.  Pork?  Take your pick: roasted with crackling skin on, meatballs, or barbecued.  Chicken fans can have one filled with shreds of chicken floss and veg-heads can have a baguette loaded with crisp greens, crunchy fresh cukes, pickles, and cilantro sprigs.

But take it from me: what you want – and what you will eventually crave for – is the traditional.  This is Bon Banhmi’s version of the bánh mì dac biet or bánh mì huynh hoa: a baguette stuffed with three kinds of Vietnamese ham or sausage plus pickles, salad greens, and dressing.  The meaty triumvirate featured here has cha lua (pork headcheese), cha gio heo (a pork sausage similar to Italian salami or mortadella), and cha thu (red-rinded pork shank ham); and this is aside from the generous schmear of Vietnamese liver pate and a rich, creamy homemade mayonnaise that tastes absolutely lush and buttery.  A scoop of daikon and carrot pickles helps cut the porky richness while fresh cucumber and cilantro add crunch and zing.

It really is one of the best sandwiches you’ll ever eat: the bread is crispy from start to finish, keeping its crusty integrity despite the creamy pate and mayo as well as the juices from the pickles and the spicy dressing.  Every bite melds together into a refreshingly savory whole and the chef doesn’t skimp on any of the ingredients.  Truth be told, it isn’t a bad deal for P 99.00 for a medium or, better yet, P 119.00 for the large.  (Get the large; you won’t regret it.)

Grab an iced coffee and settle down for a meal that wouldn’t be out of place in the streets of Saigon.

Posted in Home Cooking, Sweets for the Sweet, The Joy of Snacks

In Which One Gussies Up Her Toast…

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Not quite Shibuya Toast, but every bit as good…possibly better

Shibuya Toast is a dessert commonly found in Japanese or Korean cafe franchises.  It is, in essence, what it is: toast slathered with sweet toppings.  However, the toast in question is definitely not the same toast you scarf down for breakfast.  Au contraire, what these establishments do is grab a hunk of bread – say a quarter of an unsliced loaf – chuck it into the oven to crisp up, then load it up with syrups and conserves and goodness knows what else.

For this reason, I’ve never been inclined to order it.  For all that I’m for decadent desserts, turning your toast into a groaning behemoth of massive, sugary proportions is just overkill.

For the same reason, I prefer a little more constraint to my dessert toast.  I don’t want a hunk of bread; a somewhat thicker-cut sandwich slice works enough for me.  I don’t need all the bells and whistles of Nutella, matcha syrup, chocolate ganache, and gobs of sweetened adzuki bean.

Truth be told, all I need is a generous schmear of good peanut butter thickly slathered over the bread and a drizzle of wild honey.  Five minutes in the toaster gives the peanut butter a richer flavor and renders the honey crisp like thin, wispy shards of properly made caramel.  I finish it off with a scoop of plain, honest-to-goodness vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of more honey.  Easier to eat, no need to share; a divinely decadent dessert for one given elegant restraint.

Posted in A Girl at Lunch, A Whole Lotta Spice!, Restaurant Hopping, Uncategorized

In Which Kebab Factory Gives Mediterranean Classics a Quirky Twist…

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Why is my flatbread on a spike?

I am of the opinion that authenticity is something to consider with regard to dining at establishments specializing in the cuisine of specific countries or regions.  For this reason, Japanese restaurants always seem to have a traditional aesthetic and Mexican taquerias always look like a mercado de la puebla in Oaxaca or Acapulco.

Following this unspoken, unwritten rule, many restaurants specializing in Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and South Asian food look like the inside of a Persian harem with elaborately decorated lanterns, reproductions of Moghul Period art, and the requisite decorative hookah in the corner.  So it comes as a surprise that The Kebab Factory looks absolutely modern – and pretty much looks like a standard-issue present-day cafeteria because the food is prepared at a steam table at one end of the restaurant and is served on dinky melamine plates.

But don’t let that keep you from enjoying the wealth of flavors this joint offers.  In fact, a hint of quirkiness makes your meal more interesting.  Case in point is the starter shown above: baba ganoush with flatbread is presented in a somewhat unusual manner.  Instead of dishing up this tasty eggplant dip in a bowl or a small soup plate, this creamy melange of roasted eggplant, yogurt, and garlic is served in a highball glass with a drizzle of olive oil, a dusting of tart sumac with a hint of chili, and a whole green olive plunged into the center of the dip.  Additional chopped olives are also mixed into the dip, the zingy tart taste balancing the smooth, creamy, smoky bitterness.  Even the flatbread is presented differently: layered onto a paper spike – the kind you usually see in professional kitchens (for finished orders) or editorial offices (for finished assignments).  Crisp around the edges and chewy in the middle, these wedges are the perfect size for scooping up the baba ganoush.

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Kebab Trio Ultimate Plate (L-R: lamb, chicken, beef)

TKF also has platters to share under the heading Ultimate Plates.  One nifty choice is the Kebab Trio which has a three-kebab assortment on top of a bright yellow biryani with crisp coriander-seed pappadums and grilled tomatoes on the side.

I daresay that no extenders seem to have been used in the kebabs as these were meaty all the way through with the cumin-spiced lamb becoming a personal favorite.  The well-seasoned beef comes a close second, but the chicken – while perfectly spiced and flavorful – was on the dry side.  The mildly spiced rice works a treat with the meats, complementing rather than overpowering the flavors.

That said, what The Kebab Factory lacks in aesthetics, it certainly more than makes up for in flavor and savor.

The Kebab Factory: Ground Floor – SM Jazz Mall, Nicanor Garcia cor. Jupiter Sts., Bel-Air, Makati

Posted in A Girl at Lunch, Restaurant Hopping, Uncategorized

In Which There are Two Takes on Fast-Food Chicken…

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The chicken from Family Mart

Fried chicken is considered the go-to meal for many urban Filipinos.  For one thing, its one of the easiest things to find: there are variations on the theme of batter-coated/deep-fried fowl everywhere from the humblest carinderia to the convenience store on the corner, from the mall food court to the swank-and-swish restaurants along the high streets.  For another, most people love chicken.  One more reason: most fried chicken plates are within the range of even some of the tightest budgets.

But while it is easy to get a meal of fried chicken and rice in the Greater Manila Area, it’s also fairly easy to get a bad fried chicken meal.  You either get undercooked or overcooked chicken; the skin is limp rather than crisp; the chicken can also be under-seasoned or overly salty; and portions can also be quite scanty.  Fortunately, there are places where you can get hefty bang for your buck while also pleasing your tastebuds and belly.

The Japanese kombini [convenience store] chain Family Mart has substantially portioned chicken meals where you can opt for one or two pieces as shown above (PhP 135.00 for two pieces with rice and gravy).  The chicken is quite succulent in parts; drumsticks and thighs are all properly juicy.  Breasts and wings, however, have this tendency to be somewhat dry and stringy; dark meat is definitely the option here but these parts are quite popular and sell out quickly.  Nevertheless, it makes for a satisfying meal and the gravy tastes of butter and mushrooms – and that’s never a bad thing.

Also Recommended: the two-piece fried chicken meal at MiniStop.  At P 108.00 for a two-piece serve with enormous pieces of chicken, this is one of the more satisfying options.  The skin is a trifle salty, but this makes it perfect with rice.  The meat – almost always dark because drumsticks and thighs are always on display in the countertop warmers) – is juicy and properly seasoned; the skin is as crunchy as potato crisps and, despite the salinity, is definitely moreish.

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Crunchy Garlic Chicken with Seoul Fried Rice

Korean-American import Bon Chon, on the other hand, gives diners three options with regard to the flavors of their chicken and another three options as to which parts they want.

Personally, the choice boils down to the crunchy garlic drumstick-and-thigh rice box combo (PhP 155.00).  Unlike the other available variants where much of the flavor is concentrated in the crunchy glazed skin, the crunchy garlic tastes garlicky and savory from the first bite to the last.  I guess it helps that there are flecks of toasted garlic scattered all over each pieces.  Portions are ample and an extra PhP 20.00 lets you upgrade your plain white rice to the beefier Seoul Fried Rice which has bits of bulgogi, spring onions, omelet strips, and sesame seeds.  An extra order of kimchi coleslaw is recommended.

Also RecommendedKFC in the Colonel’s original recipe; because, face it, who says no to KFC?!

 

Posted in Restaurant Hopping, Sweets for the Sweet, The Joy of Snacks, Uncategorized

In Which There are Churros at La Maripili…

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Churros con choco?  Si!

I go on record as saying something to the effect about churros being my nibble of choice during times of stress and sheer and utter frustration.  I also remember saying something about how hard it was, at the time, to grab churros in the BGC where I was working at the time.

Things have changed since that post: I now work in Makati (again) and, while there are no churrerias within my immediate vicinity, I am grateful that I can get a cruller-fix on weekends at La Maripili Churreria at the Alabang Town Center.

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Saunter up to the counter and place your order…

La Maripili is located at the Corporate Center, the newest building in the ATC grounds, and is a little difficult to find at first.  But, trust me: it’s worth looking for.

First impressions: a clean space reminiscent of Spanish interiors just after the turn of the last century or of Southern/Caribbean plantation interiors; plenty of wood and wicker, some bits and bobs of wrought iron; and mirrors on the walls.  A refreshing place where one can relax, really.  You can opt to hop onto a bar stool or sit at more conventional tables.

But I am, of course, not here for the decor: I’m here for the churros!

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Yes, this is a SMALL serve

A small serve of churros sets you back P 60.00 and you throw in an additional P 110.00 for a cup of smoky-dark hot chocolate.

Mind you, though: these aren’t the skinny sticks you’d get at most lower-market establishments.  For scale, look below:

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Yep. they’re pretty damn big

These crullers are as long as an average-sized glossy magazine is wide.  Again: you get six of these beasties to a serve and they’re the perfect size for sharing.  However, for hardened churro-holics like myself, these are just the right size to enjoy for a solo breakfast on a lazy Saturday morning.

These come in a paper cone and are lightly sprinkled with granulated white sugar; every order is freshly-fried so these come to you all crispy-hot and golden.

Sans chocolate, these are nifty on their own: there is an eggy, buttery savor to each bite that you crunch through.  But if you dip these into the chocolate, every bite becomes divinely decadent and you are torn between scarfing down the lot before they get soggy or leisurely crunching through the lot one by one.

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It’s like an exquisitely posh take on a hotdog

Flavored churros (P 60.00 per piece) are also on the menu at this particular churreria and diners are spoilt for choice between sweet and savory options.

Here, oversized churro tubes are either pierced at the ends and piped through with creamy custards for sweet options (rumor has it that the classic crema Catalana and chocolate and chili mousse are quite popular) or split on one side and filled with either smoky-salty jamon Serrano or slices of paprika-spiced chorizo; the latter is finished off with a drizzle of honey.

The latter is a rather posh spin on a hotdog: a nifty little sandwich (or, to put it in context, bocadito) that is portable and easily noshable.  The sausage is said to be in-house and is excellent: just the right amount of paprika, deliciously porky, and has an even ratio of fat to lean.  The honey adds a light sweetness that offsets the spice and works beautifully against the eggy taste of the churro.  While putting a sausage into a cruller sounds ridiculous, I suggest you try it at least once – and you’ll find yourself craving for one.  Oh, and if you’re hankering for more substantial savory fare, La Maripili also has savory toast and sandwich options to choose from.

And, if you’re still craving for something sweet, this shop also has a selection of chocolate-covered churros (P 40 for classic dark or white chocolate; P 60 for fruit-infused white chocolate) you will be glad to sink your teeth into.

All things considered, La Maripili is definitely a place I’d be happy to return to…and I’ll be more than happy to head on back.

La Maripili Churreria: Ground Floor – Corporate Center, Alabang Town Center, Alabang, Muntinlupa

Posted in Restaurant Hopping, Sweets for the Sweet

In Which There is Breakfast for Dessert

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Matcha Souffle Pancake

Under ordinary circumstances, pancakes and waffles are dishes usually considered breakfast or brunch.  However, a little creativity and a touch of divine decadence can take these mundane munchies to another level as seriously scrumptious desserts.

Take, for instance, the matcha souffle pancake (PhP 180.00) from a new discovery: Le Petit Souffle over at Makati’s Century City Mall.  At first glance, compared to the other green tea confections available on LPS’s menu, it looks rather plain: a thick, stodgy cake under a light snowdrift of confectioner’s sugar.  But when you take a bite…!

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Splodge on some creme Anglaise et laissez les bon temps rouler!

You sink your teeth into a delightfully fluffy bit of cake: somewhere between a very thick breakfast buttermilk flapjack and a light and airy chiffon.  Here, the matcha has a very pronounced flavor: somewhat floral though without the grassiness that seems to characterize the taste of more common matcha-infused sweets.  There is no bitterness, though the herbaceous character of the matcha used (I’m half-tempted to describe it as la fleur de matcha because it is so headily fragrant) adds a very mild astringent hit.

This will arrive at your table with pots of vanilla bean creme Anglaise and maple syrup.  Tip: skip the maple syrup as it adds nothing to this pancake’s charms.  Instead, generously splodge on the rich, luxurious-textured vanilla cream on every bite: the lushness works gorgeously with the pillowy texture of the cake.

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After these, you probably won’t want to eat waffles any other way

Now, as for the waffles, southerners should make a beeline for Milkbox at the Alabang Town Center and grab the dark chocolate waffle sundae (PhP 290.00 for a two-scoop serve).

Here, two dark chocolate waffles fresh off the iron are drizzled over with chocolate and strawberry syrups, dusted with confectioner’s sugar, scattered over with bits of brown sugar brittle and edible flowers, then topped with two scoops of the ice cream of your choice and a pair of toasted marshmallows.

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No regrets if this is the only thing you’ll eat all day!

The waffles are properly crisp on the edges and fluffy within, their crevices a perfect catch-basin for dollops of syrup.  These cakes are more bitter than  sweet, by the way: the smoky richness of cocoa evident in each bite as well as the aroma.  (I swear: you can smell the waffles cooking several feet away.)

Milkbox denizens recommend dark chocolate, red velvet, and green tea ice creams for topping this bittersweet behemoth.  I recommend the latter two: the cream cheese in the red velvet adds a welcome tang that goes nicely with the strawberry syrup while the green tea helps balance the bitterness with a somewhat nutty – almost almond-esque – nuance.

Le Petit Souffle: 3rd Floor – Century City Mall, Kalayaan Avenue, Poblacion, Makati

Milkbox: Lower Ground Level – New Wing, Alabang Town Center, Alabang, Muntinlupa