In Which There is a Rolled-up Spin on Pizza…

Stromboli
Stromboli

This is what happens when you find yourself bored to death on a summer evening when you’re supposed to do the cooking at home: you take one of your staple recipes, prepare it the usual way until about two or three steps to the end, and then do something totally mad with it.

In this case, I wanted to make a pizza for dinner – and ended up rolling it into another Italian treat: stromboli.  Stromboli is similar to a calzone in the sense that it involves pizza dough encasing a savoury filling.  However, unlike a calzone, stromboli is rolled into a cylinder before being sliced into spiral-patterned bites.  That said, any leftovers are easily tucked into lunchboxes the following day for nifty snacks or light lunches.

The recipe here is how I usually do stromboli, but feel free to throw in your preferred fillings and sauces.

Roll it out, spread on the sauce, layer on the toppings, roll it up...
Roll it out, spread on the sauce, layer on the toppings, roll it up…

Stromboli

  • 500 grams all-purpose flour
  • 300 mL water
  • 3 tablespoons cooking oil or rendered ham fat or lard
  • 1 sachet fast-acting yeast
  • 1 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon rubbed sage
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 cup commercially prepared pasta sauce, halved
  • 1/4 cup salty ham, chopped finely
  • 1/2 cup diced pork sausage
  • 1 cup fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems and caps sliced thinly
  • 1 red onion, peeled, halved, and sliced thinly
  • 1 eggplant, peeled and diced
  • 1 cup grated sharp Cheddar cheese, halved
  • 1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water

In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, yeast, and herbs.  Heat the water and oil together in a heatproof bowl for a minute and a half on HIGH in the microwave.  Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in the water mixture.  Mix until well-combined.  Knead for ten to twelve minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic.  Cover with a clean dishcloth and allow to rise in a draft-free area for an hour.

Pre-heat oven to 500 degrees / Gas Mark 7.

Remove the dishcloth from the risen dough.  Divide the dough into two.  Cover one half of the dough, then roll out the other half onto a floured surface into a rectangle approximately 1/2-inch thick.  Spread over half the pasta sauce, then evenly scatter over half the toppings and half the cheese.  Roll up from the broad end and place on a baking sheet.  Repeat with the remaining ingredients.  Leave to prove for 20 – 30 minutes; then brush the surface of the rolls with the eggwash.

Bake for ten minutes, then lower the temperature to 375 degrees / Gas Mark 5 and bake an additional fifteen minutes.  Remove from oven and allow to cool in pan for about two to three minutes before slicing.  Slice the rolls into twelve portions each.

Makes 24 stromboli.

In Which We Celebrate TEN Years of Midge in the Kitchen

A Sakura Soy & Ginger FIsh Bento Tray
Food should be present for EVERY celebration

In April 2005, I was working as a technical writer for an antivirus developer in Eastwood City over in Libis.  At the time, I’d recently been diagnosed with a form of bipolar personality disorder and was horrendously depressed at losing my job at an international aid agency and being told off – yet again – by someone whom I’d grown unaccountably fond of.  It was, to be perfectly honest about this whole thing, not the best time to be alive for me; everything was falling apart, everything was too heavy to bear, and it did not help that I felt that everyone hated me or despised me.

Because of this, I found myself drawn towards blogging.  It pretty much became an outlet for me to be able to cope with all the issues I was dealing with at the time.  But what was I going to write about?  Goodness knows that, at the time, I had serious doubts about my abilities as a writer; as in no one took me seriously about my writing.  Honestly, it began to look that I did not, at the time, have a future in writing.

So I began writing about food.  It was a fairly safe topic and one that I’d always been fond of.  It helped that, at the time, I had found my groove when it came to baking and cooking.  I was developing a reputation for being a fairly good baker and had, to a certain extent, mastered some of the more basic viands intrinsic to any cook’s repertoire.

It proved to be the therapy I needed: I was able to forget my problems, fluff off my issues, and get more focused.  First, it was restaurant reviews: cheap or indulgent eats in the vicinity of Eastwood City, Robinson’s Galleria, and the Shangri-la Plaza over in Mandaluyong where I’d cross EDSA on the way home at night.  Then, it became something of a grocery update where I’d feature new products or particularly interesting eats from far-off lands.  But, most of all, it became a recipe resource, something of an online cookbook where I could share recipes – adapted from other sources or original treats – with the world.  While I haven’t exactly been regular with updating the blog, it continues to be my refuge online – though now it shares time and space with the blog where I post poetry and prose to see if anyone actually reads my work.  It is my culinary laboratory, my sounding board, my outlet.

Ten years have passed since this blog took its baby steps via the blog widget on Friendster.  It has moved URLs thrice since then, finally settling in with WordPress around seven or eight years ago.

In the time that has passed since Sybaritic Diversions first went online, since the day I changed the name to Midge in the Kitchen, so much has happened: friends have gone, gotten married, had kids; some, unfortunately, split up with their partners.  Some have moved abroad; some, alas, have passed away – including my oldest friend who died of an aneurysm last year at the tender age of 37.  My father retired from over 30 years in his career, my mother found herself dragooned into being an officer for her church ministry; my brother was ordained into the priesthood, my sister finished college and is now a practicing RN.

As for me, I left my job as a technical writer not too long after I started blogging, found myself set adrift for a while, then took another techwriting post at a software development firm.  I would return to my true metier, advertising and public relations, in 2009: I would stick to one firm for nearly four years, try my hand at finishing a novel (and I did!), work for a bit in corporate communications (and totally regret it), before joining another ad agency in September of last year.  Don’t ask about my love life, though: it remains complicated to the present day, but let’s just say that I find some measure of fulfilment baking for someone…and leave it at that.  ;)

And so, ten years have passed – and I am pretty sure there are many, many more culinary adventures to be had in the years to come.

In Which Lunch was Rustic Yet Deliciously Decadent…

Definitely my kind of lunch!
Definitely my kind of lunch!

Binagoongang baboy – pork braised in soy, vinegar, and garlic then sauteed in pungent bagoong [fermented shrimp paste / nam prik] – has long been one of my favourite dishes and also happens to be my idea of comfort food.  There are a number of ways by which it is prepared and, likewise, a number of styles in which it is presented.

My favourite version of the dish is the one known as crispy binagoongan.  Here, the braised pork is first deep-fried to crunchy, golden-brown perfection before being tossed into sauteed bagoong which has been cooked down to a saucy sludge with red onions, fresh garlic, and diced tomatoes.  The resulting dish features a scrumptious variety of textures, flavours, and aromas: the pork is tender in spots yet the crackling skin shatters audibly when you take a bite; the pungent natural scent of the shrimp paste becomes milder, more savoury thanks to the addition of aromatics and the fruitiness of the tomatoes; the saltiness is tempered by the sweetness of the pork, the slight bitterness of the charred parts of the crackling, the sharpness of onion and garlic, and the acidity of the tomato.

That said, Mozu Cafe Bar’s spin on my favourite dish may just be in the running to become my favourite meal.  Their crispy binagoongan set (P 190.00) features a generous portion of braised-then-fried pork dressed with a grainy spin on the traditional bagoong gravy, a sour green mango salsa, and a scoop of hot rice.  Fried eggplant adds a pleasant smoky bitterness and the creamy texture of the eggplant pulp goes beautifully against the crunch of the fried pork and the crisp, unripe mango.  If you want additional heat, this plate also comes with a green chile to chop up and mix into the bagoong which has an appealing hint of sweetness.  (Oh, and the bagoong also doubles as a dressing that turns your salsa into a nice side salad!)  Definitely a meal with which to spoil one’s self.  :)

Mozu Cafe Bar: 31st St. cor. 2nd Avenue, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig

In Which Brunch Had a Neighbourly Spin…

Not quite your usual coffee joint
Not quite your usual coffee joint

It’s been ages since I’ve hung out in Makati – months, as a matter of fact.  Relocating to the Bonifacio Global City has opened up a lot of new culinary experiences, but I’ve missed the place where I started my career in advertising, where I spent the bulk of my career.  Since I was out running an errand for the office in Legaspi Village this morning, it gave me the opportunity to grab a bite at one of the new third-wave cafes that have sprung up in the area.  And I was not disappointed.

Brunch anyone?
Brunch anyone?

Local Edition is one such cafe.  Small, homey yet hip, it is representative of the newer sort of coffee bar: definitely no part of any chains, foreign or local; emphasis on fresh brews for both coffee and tea; both drinks and dishes are prepared just as you order them (no stale meals here!); and a focus on local purveyors.  And believe me when I say it’s all good.

The breakfast bagel (P 215.00) is one example.  You get a just-prepped chive omelet and a slice of ham tucked into a nice, chewy flour bagel.  Properly toasted and dressed with a tangy mayonnaise, it makes for a filling brunch.  And the addition of fresh orange and apple slices adds a healthy touch.

A flat white is always a lovely thing...
A flat white is always a lovely thing…

But the real treat here is the coffee.  A freshly-brewed flat white (P 155.00 for a large) is just the thing you need to get some energy.  Made with Local Edition’s signature Perea Brew blend, it is just strong enough to wake you up but not so strong as to get you all wired.  The bitterness and acidity are balanced just so and the addition of milk makes this creamy, smooth, and just faintly sweet…just the way I like my coffee.

Now, really, I wish they’d open a branch in my neck of the woods, but that would take away much of this coffee bar’s charm.  That said, I’ll be happy to pop in again…well, soon as I find myself running another office errand in Makati!

Local Edition Coffee and Tea: 116 Perea St., Legaspi Village, Makati

In Which a Classic Dessert Gets a Scottish Twist..

Believe me when I say this dessert was a bloody headache and a half to make...
Believe me when I say this dessert was a bloody headache and a half to make…literally.

11:00 PM on Black Saturday.  I’m on the phone with a friend.  I am running a fairly high fever.  My throat hurts.  I’m starting to cough.  But I can’t sleep…well, not just yet anyway.

“You don’t sound too good,” my friend tells me, a note of worry creeping into his voice.  “We can talk about this on Monday.  Go to bed.”

“I can’t,” I reply.  “Well, not yet.”

“Not yet?”

“I’ve got something cooking in the kitchen…”  I cough and ruefully add that I am in the kitchen as we speak.  “It’s already in the oven and I can’t leave it till it’s done.”

“Wait…what?  What are you baking this time?!

A bit of a back-story here: this is the friend who performs every Monday at a cosy little bar in Makati.  This is the friend for whom I baked a loaf of bread for a Christmas present; the same friend whom I usually end up baking Madeleines for.  Also the friend for whom I made a truly evil batch of homemade peanut butter cups (recipe for which may never be disclosed via this blog because the decadent little bastards truly were wicked and delicious) for Beatles Night at the Boiler Room.  (Long story…)  We annoy each other from time to time, but we stay friends anyway.

And so, to continue here, I reminded him that I promised two other friends of ours that I would make leche flan – aka creme caramel – for Easter.  Only, this one would have a grown-up twist as it would have whiskey blended into the custard.  The original plan was to use an American whiskey: proper Bourbon, say Southern Comfort or Jack Daniels.  As luck would have it, there was no Bourbon to be had for love or money in any of my usual haunts before Holy Week.  (A divine sign, perhaps?  Oh, dear…)  So, what’s a determined home-cook to do?

Why, use scotch, of course!  Besides, I’m a bigger fan of the malty, peat-smoke taste of Scots whiskies than I am of what the Yanks produce.  (A difference in taste between me and the friend, one on which we agree to disagree.)

The end result of staying up so late: a creme caramel that was both rich, boozy, and totally decadent.  However.  it isn’t exactly something I’d do on a regular basis.  (Do you know how maddening it is to set up a bloody water bath / bain marie?  Or how nerve-wracking it is to check on the caramel?!?)

Nevertheless, it was pretty good: the malty character of the whiskey went beautifully with the egginess of the custard.  Plus, the fact that I threw in proper vanilla from a pod added another dimension of flavour to the dessert.

Try it for yourself and let me know in the comments how yours went.  :)

Scotch Creme Caramel

  • 1-1/3 cups granulated white sugar
    2/3 cup water
    1-1/2 cups milk
    370mL all-purpose cream
    1/3 cup Scotch
    4 eggs, plus 8 egg yolks, extra
    additional 2/3 cup granulated white sugar
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped out and pod reserved
Preheat oven to 300°F / Gas Mark 2.  Place the sugar and water in a saucepan over high heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved.  Bring to the boil and cook for 10 to 12 minutes or until the mixture is amber-coloured.  Pour into four flaneras [custard moulds]; set aside for 5 minutes or until the caramel is set.
Place the milk, cream, Scotch, and the scraped vanilla pod in a saucepan over medium heat until it just comes to the boil.  Remove from heat.  Place eggs, extra yolks, extra sugar, vanilla extract, and vanilla seeds in a bowl and whisk until well combined.  Gradually add the milk mixture, whisking to combine.  Strain the mixture and pour into the prepared flaneras.
Set the flaneras in a larger baking pan; fill the pan with enough hot water to reach half the height of the flaneras.  Bake for 40 minutes or until set.  Remove from the dish and refrigerate for 4 hours or until cold.  Turn out onto a plate to serve.

 

 

In Which there is a Fiery Spin on a Dumpling and Noodle Lunch…

The dumpling kitchen at work
The dumpling kitchen at work

It has been, to be perfectly honest, ages since I went and had a proper solo lunch. Most of the time, meals have had to be rushed thanks to deadlines; food purchased at convenience stores closest to the office.  Nourishing, yes; but wholly unsatisfactory in terms of flavour and quality.

Today, thank goodness, I was able to take a breather when I did some errands at lunch today.  I found myself traipsing down to the corner of 31st Street and 4th Avenue to Shi Lin, a dinky little restaurant that is justly famous for its xiao long bao.

Spicy vegetable and pork wontons
Spicy vegetable and pork wontons

Now, it sounds like sheer blasphemy to go to a restaurant famous for xiao long bao and not order those soup-filled dumplings, but that wasn’t the sort of thing I had a hankering for.  Truth be told, I wanted something spicy, but not too incendiary.  Fortunately, there was something right up my alley on the menu: spicy vegetable and pork wontons.

As shown above, these nifty little bundles come six to a bowl, drenched in a vivid, scarlet-hued pool of Szechuan-style pepper and garlic oil, and topped with squiggles and circles of finely-sliced fresh scallions.  Savoury and richly umami, these have none of the stodginess of most dumplings; these were nicely porky with a bit of crunch from the fresh veg (methinks there was a bit of jicama and chive involved).  Even the oil was nice: not too rich and flavourful enough to drizzle over…

Noodles with spicy sesame and peanut sauce
Noodles with spicy sesame and peanut sauce

…a bowl of noodles with spicy sesame and peanut sauce.  Kind of reminiscent of Malaysian satay sauce with its earthy, sweet, nutty, toasty flavour with a faint fiery tinge that lets you know that the chilli is still there, it’s an amazingly tasty and satisfying dish.  Drizzle over some oil from the dumplings, and you, dear reader, have a dish fit for a queen.

Are there any more of these?
Are there any more of these?

Shi Lin – Ground Floor – Commercenter, 4th Avenue cor. 31st Street, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig

In Which There are Sweets from Cloistered Sisters…

Alfajores y cuchipan
Alfajores y cuchipan

I’ve been a naughty little biscuit, dear readers.  I’ve not posted anything here on Midge in the Kitchen for nearly a month now.  (The last post is actually dated 05th March!)  Life has been absolutely crazy for me: projects at work, a novel in the works (out this April…I hope!), going for passion projects (mine and a friend’s). and enjoying myself.  It’s been mostly good, really, and I regret nothing.

About a couple weeks ago, I got the opportunity to take a break and go on a spiritual retreat over at the Carmelite Missionaries’ Centre for Spirituality over in breezy Tagaytay for a couple of days and it was what a world-weary soul needed to get back in sync.  And, on the way home, I went and picked up a few treats for those back in the city.

The Good Shepherd Sisters are an order synonymous with the ube [purple yam] and strawberry jams that have long been a staple souvenir of those coming back from the northern resort province of Baguio.  This cloistered order is also popular for its peanut brittle and angel cookies (buttery biscuits with host cuttings – the edges left from cutting out communion wafers).  More recently, the order opened a convent in Tagaytay and also opened a shop whose proceeds are used for the vocational education of youngsters from less fortunate families.

What I opted for on this particular visit were the alfajores and the cuchipan.  The former is a variation on the classic Argentinian biscuit where shortbread circles are sandwiched with rich, unctuous dulce de leche.  The Good Shepherd version is lighter: sugary, crumbly, buttery shortbread discs sandwiched with a rather challengingly-textured sugar syrup filling.  Pretty passable, in my opinion, and a nice thing to pair with a cup of coffee.

More successful was the cuchipan, those vividly green discs shown above.  Cuchipan is a pandan (screwpine)-flavoured spin on cuchintaa chewy steamed cake made with brown sugar and galapong (glutinous rice flour).  The interesting thing about it is that it separates into two layers when cooked: a chewy, mochi-like layer below, a creamy and custardy layer on top.  Subtly herbaceous and not too sweet, it made for a nice little coffee break treat.  And, really, the coconut that came with it was practically optional as the cakes were good on their own.