In Which One Has Soba for a Kitchen Supper…

Instant buckwheat soba
Instant buckwheat soba

There is a Korean grocery on the ground floor of the building where I work.  Sun-Han Mart is where I get stuff like the Lotte Ghana Dark Chocolate bars I bash up for cookie recipes, instant ramyeun for kitchen suppers or gluttonous weekend breakfasts, corn snacks that aren’t as heavily-seasoned or as MSG-heavy as local nibbles can be, cheesecake bars, those fish-shaped ice cream-filled wafer-wiches, and goodness knows what else.  (They have instant ice cream mixes, by the way!)  It’s also where I’ve made a number of interesting culinary discoveries from frozen dumplings with interesting savoury fillings and tinned foodstuffs that are perfect for rolling into kimbap or futo maki if you’re feeling more Japanese than Korean to dried mushrooms of varying intensities and soup bases.

And, interestingly enough, they have instant buckwheat soba.

What's inside the packet
What’s inside the packet

At P 40.00 (US$ 0.89), it’s a trifle more expensive than most instant noodle packs.  But here’s what you get: a solid, tightly woven disk of dried buckwheat noodles whose nutty aroma permeates the air upon opening the packet.  There is a clear plastic packet of a mildly sweet soy sauce and a smaller green packet that contains a freeze-dried block of wasabi interspersed with bits and chunks of shredded nori seaweed and freeze-dried scallions.

You just chuck the noodles into a pot of rapidly boiling water for about four minutes, then drain them well.  You should save about a couple tablespoons of the cooking water, by the way.  Drain the noodles and rinse them under cold water.  Chuck the wasabi cube into a bowl and pour over the reserved cooking water till it fizzes and dissolves completely into a clear-ish solution with bits and bobs of seaweed and spring onion; the aroma will have the sharp, pungent notes of fresh wasabi.  Add the soy sauce to the wasabi solution and, you, dear reader, are technically done.

On their own, the noodles are anything but bland as they have a nice, rounded flavour: nutty, earthy, somewhat rich.  Dipped into the soy-wasabi broth, they gain additional savour and are pretty good eaten as is, perhaps with some grated fresh daikon radish and / or a scattering of more shredded nori.  But you readers know how I am: I like my noodles hefty and substantial; and so…

Make a meal out of it!
Make a meal out of it!

I like topping my soba with some deeply umami stuff like a good sesame and katsuoboshi furikake that adds robustness to the earthy-tasting noodles.  Round that off with store-bought gyoza (or, what the heck, steam or boil up some meat- or kimchi-filled mandu dumplings while you’re at it!) and a few slivers of home-cooked tonkatsu and you have a meal fit for an empress.

Of course, I’m not saying you should eat like this everyday, but it’s a magnificent way to indulge yourself in the middle or end of a hectic week.

In Which We Have a New Contest: Binge on a Budget

What's your Binge on a Budget?
What’s your Binge on a Budget?

Filipinos are amazing when it comes to food.  It’s as if we know instinctively what tastes good, what will satisfy our cravings in the best manner possible.  That said, Filipinos are also keen on getting as much bang for the buck as possible – especially where food is concerned.

This is the premise behind this year’s contest on Midge in the KitchenBinge on a Budget!  We’re looking at meals for one – personal indulgences, little treats for yourself, mini-celebrations done solo – that cost P 200 or less!  We’re looking at budget meals with the dials all cranked up to MAX; spoiling oneself rotten with good food on a very tight budget.  

The rules are simple:

  1. Take a cue from the picture above.  Snap a picture of your most indulgent meal.
  2. Post your picture on Instagram, tagging @deessedomestique with the hashtags #midgeinthekitchen and/or #bingeonabudget or email me your picture at midge(dot)manlapig(at)gmail(dot)com.
  3. Caption it with a witty description plus total costs.
  4. Winner takes all: P 500 worth of Starbucks GCs plus P 500 worth of assorted Japanese treats.

Contest runs from today, 24 June to 24 July.  I’ll be announcing the winner here on the blog on 31st July.  Good luck, everyone.  ;)

In Which We Talk About Chicharon

Can there be anything more glorious than a jar-full of chicharon?
Can there be anything more glorious than a jar-full of chicharon?

It’s the sort of thing that makes hard-core food buffs swoon in sheer delight, dieters to flee screaming bloody murder, cardiologists cry foul, and harder-core drinkers to cast a gimlet eye upon a plate-full and demand more beer.  You can add it to soups and stews; bash it up and use it to top dishes like pancit palabok or a steaming hot bowl of congee, adding a crispy contrast to the starchy stuff below.  The swankier wannabe gourmet-types like tossing it into fusion pasta sauces or into salads that feature native ingredients, adding a rich, wickedly porky nuance into familiar foods; the oomph factor goes up several notches.  Or you could just nosh on it on its own: whether it’s the massive, blistered-surfaced curls from the Lapid’s on the corner or the diminutive squares deep-fried in your home kitchen, chicharon is most certainly a classic staple of Philippine cuisine.

It is an offshoot of the days when Spanish galleons sailed across the globe bringing merchandise to different ports of call and, in doing so, integrated elements of various cultures into those of every nation along the route.  Chicharon is, obviously, the local spelling of chicharron from Mexico: pork rinds – pork skin and fat – deep-fried until golden and taking a bite results in a highly audible crunch.

There have, of course, in these distressingly health-conscious days, been faux versions of chicharon.  You have the crisply-fried chicken-skin variant which goes over big time with people who are crazy about fried chicken.  There have been fish-skin versions and, alas, vegetarian variants.  However, suffice it to say that there is nothing better than the original with all its porky goodness.

Here in the Philippines, chicharon are classified depending on their appearance and fat content.  That in mind, these are:

  • Chicharong may Laman  This, dear readers, is absolutely decadent stuff: large curls of pork rind with a thick layer of fat.  Think slab bacon deep-fried to a crisp and you pretty much have chicharong may laman.  Crunchy as you take a bite, the fat melts seductively on the tongue and leaves a memory of sheer, unctuous deliciousness;
  • Cocktail Chicharon  These are leaner little bites with the fat neatly trimmed off and the seasoning is quite a bit zestier: aside from salt, plenty of black pepper and, sometimes, chili powder are thrown in for some extra oomph.  These are so called because these are the idea size for cocktail nibbles or bar snacks;
  • Chicharong Pang-gisa  These are the little cubes of deliciousness in the jar at the top of this post.  This is usually how chicharon is prepared in home kitchens: slabs of pork skin – with or without a layer of fat – are diced and rendered down in large woks (carajays or kawas in the provinces) until the lard has liquefied and the pork skin has crisped up.  These are so-called because they are added to stir-fried, soups, and stews.  Of course, this hasn’t stopped generations of Filipinos from filching them out of the kitchen just to munch on…; and
  • Chicharong Bulaklak  The villain in the eyes of many a cardiologist or dietitian, these are segments of pork intestine cut in such a way that they puff up into flower-like tidbits in the fryer.  Too much of a good thing – salty, fatty, bitter, and savory – can’t be good for you, but this has never stopped die-hard fans from gobbling the stuff down, preferably with a mug-full of very cold beer.
Chicharon on Pinakbet
Chicharon on Pinakbet

Seriously, I never really got into the habit of chicharon munching, though I have been known to sneak more than a few cubes of the homemade stuff and I never decline when a plate or bag of these dangerously addictive pork rinds are offered.  Nevertheless, my indulgence in these wicked treats is somewhat restrained and I enjoy them as a garnish on rustic dishes like pinakbet or a proper guinisang monggo.  Hold the vinegar, please; these porky bits are excellent as is.

In Which the Blogger Takes a Shot at Becoming a Food Hero

Hello, everyone!  Just a shout-out to all you readers and blog followers out there: I’ve joined this year’s search for Food Hero where two winners will get to live out their dreams of becoming presenters/hosts of their own shows on Food Network – Asia and the Asian Food Channel.

Truth be told it does look like a long shot, but we never know till we try, yes?  So please: watch the vid, feel free to share, and like the vid on YouTube.

Bash on, lovelies!

In Which Lunch was a Last Taste of Summer…

Formosa-style chicken
Formosa-style chicken

The seasons are turning once again in my part of the world.  On some days, the sky over the Global City is beautiful: silvery grey, clouds weighted down by rain; a faint drizzle pours down, gaining intensity with each minute, raindrops falling fat and fast.  The weather is pleasant: not as cool as I would like it to be, but – mercifully – not blistering hot anymore.  Of course, as I write this post, the weather is, again, broiling and horrible; perfect for beach bunnies but definitely not for me.

Yet, times like these are a signal to people that summer is [thank God!] drawing to a close and the cooler weather of the monsoon months will begin to hold sway.  Scorching days will finally give way to grey skies and stormy weather.  Time to tuck away those bikinis and strappy sandals; time to finish up those salads and prepare warmer, more substantial meals.  That said, even one’s noontime nosh becomes something of a signal, a harbinger of monsoon winds and rainy days yet clinging to the last rays of sunshine.

Chicken + noodles = WIN
Chicken + noodles = WIN

This particular lunch set brings together a summery dish full of bright, fresh flavours and a way of cooking noodles that calls to mind the more substantial fare of the colder months.

The chicken dish at the top of the post is Serenitea‘s Formosa Chicken.  Here, a chicken fillet is flattened till absolutely tender, crumbed up, and deep fried till crisp.  The sliced fillet is then seasoned with salt and black pepper and topped with crisp-fried basil and fresh tomatoes.  A pleasant mix of savoury and sweet with each bite, it is an absolute pleasure to eat on those days when the weather seems undecided about staying sunny and is also contemplating dumping bucket-loads of water over the city.

With the chicken wen a bowl of instant jajjangmyeun or Korean wheat noodles tossed in a sweet-salty black soybean paste.  This umami concoction works beautifully with the chicken; just the thing to eat as the seasons unfold and change before your eyes.

 

In Which One Has a Tea-infused Homemade Dessert – Solo…

Just out of the microwave
Just out of the microwave

This is what happens when you find yourself cross-eyed and weary after reworking several advertorial drafts for a whole morning and you don’t feel hungry at all: you pause for a bit, lunch becoming more theoretical than practical as you feed your eyes and your mind by browsing through other writers’ food blogs.  In the process of relaxing an overtaxed mind and a weary body, I came across a rather intriguing little recipe from Kirbie’s Cravings for a matcha mug cake.  Believe me when I say I was immediately hooked.

My only problem: the matcha I had in the pantry cupboard turned was not the vividly green gyokuro kind and was more olive-coloured than the brilliantly wonted green.  Essentially, it was more like brown sencha rather than actual matcha.  In a pinch, however, one must do what one can – and the results were, nevertheless, delicious.

Ice cream is necessary as it melts into a sauce
Ice cream is necessary as it melts into a sauce

Because of the nature of the tea I had on hand, I had to make certain adjustments to the recipe, upping the amount of liquid and throwing in white chocolate chips because their milky sweetness is the perfect foil for the herbaceous, smoky flavour profile of the sencha.

Also, I didn’t have any plain milk on hand.  What I did have was this new Quaker product called Good Start: a malted vanilla milk drink with oats in it.  Rather unusual, but I am pleased to say that the malt and the oats added a rich nutty taste that helped to round out the flavours in the finished product.

All gone!
All gone!

Really, all this needed was a scoop of ice cream to melt over it and become a rich, almost caramel-ly sauce.

Incidentally, this yields a mug cake that is substantially smaller and lighter than the previous mug cake and bowl-pudding recipes I have posted on this blog.  While those were made for sharing, this is definitely a dessert you can enjoy all on your own.

Malted Milk Tea Cake with Ice Cream
Malted Milk Tea Cake with Ice Cream

Malted Milk Tea Mug Cake

  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon matcha or sencha powder
  • 1/4 cup Quaker Good Start vanilla malt drink (or ready-to-drink vanilla malted milk)
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon granulated white sugar
  • 2 tablespoons white chocolate chips
  • 1 scoop ice cream, to serve

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, tea, baking powder, sugar, and malted milk until a smooth-ish batter is achieved.  Stir in the white chocolate chips, ensuring that these are evenly distributed in the mixture.  Scrape the batter into a microwave-safe mug.

Cook in the microwave on HIGH for exactly 1 minute.  Top with ice cream upon removal from the microwave.  Serve immediately.

Serves 1.

In Which a Mishmash of Ingredients Leads to the Creation of Monday Night Specials…

Monday Night Special, anyone?
Monday Night Special, anyone?

This has been a rather screwed-up week for me.  Two weeks of incredible traffic, tons of projects on both the working and home fronts, a strange physical malaise coming over me, and literally slumping to the floor in a faint have taken their toll and have left me more than a little worn out and totally burned out.

That’s why I bake.  It’s something of a respite for me.  It keeps me from falling apart and going completely mad .  It’s the sort of activity that unleashes the more creative side of me, allows me to be a bit more adventurous with things as I explore possible combinations of flavor and texture.

Earlier this week, as a rather hopeful gesture of getting things off to a more pleasant start, I decided to do a bit of baking, tweaking an old recipe for chocolate chunk cookies in the process, throwing in a few things to make these classic treats a little more interesting.

A bit of matcha powder was thrown in for a slightly nutty nuance.  Macadamia nuts were stirred in for a buttery taste that nicely complemented the two intensities of dark chocolate (50% and 65%).  Finally, white chocolate chips (stuff I normally turn my nose at) and a caramel-stuffed milk chocolate bar were added to add layers of flavor – tempering the intensity of the dark chocolate.

Share with friends...even the one who keeps telling you he doesn't like sweets, yet is the first to dive in whenever you bake anything.
Share with friends…even the one who keeps telling you he doesn’t like sweets, yet is the first to dive in whenever you bake anything.  (That cookie in your hand is proof enough, mister…)

Since I was bringing these to a friend’s regular Monday night gig at the Boiler Room, I’ve named these dinky little treats Monday Night Specials.  I actually promised two other friends a dozen cookies each (Hence the tuck-boxes shown below), but I have an odd feeling someone’s actually a cookie monster in secret…

I daresay you could bake these for a friend who needs some cheering up.  Believe me when I say they will most certainly be appreciated.

All packed and ready to be shared!
All packed and ready to be shared!

Monday Night Specials

  • 1 stick (1/2 cup)  salted butter, softened

  • 1/4 cup vanilla-flavored margarine
  • 1 cup brown sugar

  • 1 egg, lightly beaten

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

  • 2 teaspoons unsweetened matcha [green tea] powder
  • 1 – 1/2 cups flour

  • 100 grams dark chocolate, coarsely chopped

  • 50 grams milk chocolate with caramel and peanuts (you can use a Snickers bar or, better yet, one of those chewy Korean milk chocolate, caramel, and peanut bars), finely diced

  • 50 grams white chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup macadamia nuts, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats

Preheat oven to 350 degrees / Gas Mark 4.  Cream together the butter, margarine, brown sugar, and vanilla until smooth and creamy.  Add the egg, matcha, and baking powder; mix thoroughly.  Add half the flour, the oats, nuts, and chocolates; mix well.  Add the remaining flour and mix until well-combined.

Drop dough by rounded tablespoons onto an ungreased cookie sheet.  Bake for 10 – 15 minutes.  Cool on a rack before storing in an airtight container.  Makes approximately 50 cookies.