Food for Functions: The Pancake House Special

Pancake House has long been known for really good food for the whole family.  Aside from the griddle cakes from whence it got its name, it also offers sandwiches (the chicken asparagus, in my personal opinion, is the nicest), pasta, grilled meats, and a variety of blue plate specials.  That said, it’s not surprising that people actually call Pancake House to supply them with lip-smacking / rib-sticking meals to liven up even the corniest corporate events.

We just had a contract signing last week and such an event usually calls for Delifrance tarts and canapes.  However, the technical partners for this particular signing are the “plain folks” sort who specifically asked that the food be as plain and as wholesome as can be.

Jeez, why can’t we get tech partners like this all the time?!  😀

Anyway, since they wanted us to keep things simple and wholesome, the organizing committee did the right thing by ordering boxed lunches from Pancake House.  Participants had a choice between the Spaghetti Club Special Set (spaghetti Bolognese and half a clubhouse sandwich) and the House Special Set shown above.  The House Special features three of Pancake House’s non-flapjack best-sellers: spaghetti Bolognese, Pan Chicken, and what they proudly refer to as the Best Taco in Town.  (Seriously: it’s what’s written in their menu!) 

The taco is good – very good, as a matter of fact.  I can’t exactly call it the best in town (there are a number of really great Mexican restaurants here these days), but it sure doesn’t skimp on the beef and the salsa is deliciously tangy.

The Pan Chicken is, essentially, batter-coated fried chicken.  In this case, the chicken was nicely colored: the proper golden brown sort.  The batter-coated skin – the best part of many a dish of fried chicken, in my opinion – crackled when I bit into it and the crunch was made more appealing by the salty-peppery flavor.  The chicken within was a surprise: I got a wing part – and I got rather iffy at first because I’m not really a fan of white meat.  To my surprise, the meat was moist, juicy even, and beautifully flavored.  I recommend at this point, however, skipping the gravy that comes with it; it tasted like Knorr Liquid Seasoning, go figure…

The spaghetti is, well, spaghetti: meaty, savory, with a slight sweetness that makes it appealing to Filipinos of all ages.  Not bad, quite good, but not exactly something to write home about.

Brie: The King of Cheeses

Cheese.

Because the Philippines isn’t exactly dairy country like, say, Switzerland or even Japan (They make fabulous cheeses in Hokkaido, by the way.), most people look at it as something that comes in a rectangular blue box in the dairy section of their neighborhood supermarket, a gooey yellowish-orange concoction with pimentos in a jar. It is, to most people, something you stick or spread between two slices of bread for a sandwich, grate over spaghetti, or use to top a burger. That’s how most people in these parts look at cheese.

Then, they run into something like the Jindi Triple Cream Brie I bought at the Wine Depot last month.

Once they’ve sampled something like that, it changes the way they look at and feel about cheese forever.

Brie is a very soft cows’ milk cheese originally made in the French province of the same name. It is, like the Camembert, a wheel-shaped cheese characterized by an edible white mold and a soft, almost runny center. It was the favorite cheese of the Impressionist Master Pierre-Auguste Renoir who declared the Brie made just on the outskirts of Paris – the fabled Brie de Meaux – the veritable “King of Cheeses”.

You can’t blame Renoir for being moved to such praise as the cheese is truly delicious with a creamy, slightly nutty, highly savory flavor.

True French Brie, usually the mass produced ones, can be found in many supermarkets and is quite reasonably priced – which is why I wonder why many Filipinos haven’t gone and actually tried the stuff! Now, you can go ahead and call me a culinary heretic or Philistine, but the best Brie I have had so far happens to be Australian rather than French. This is the Triple Cream Brie from Jindi, an award-winning dairy farm that also produces top-quality Camembert and an amazingly fruity Morbier.

This particular Brie has a very rich flavor with a slightly garlicky tinge to the undertone. The aroma is also delicious with just the faintest hint of ammonia. While it is firm to the bite, it melts almost instantly in your mouth; it has an almost satiny texture in its molten state. While I seriously enjoy popping chunks of this into my mouth for a quick – yet elegant – snack, this also tastes gorgeous on hot toast, spread on sliced apples, or – most decadently – put atop slices of grilled beef tenderloin to make the most sophisticated cheese-steak sandwich ever. 😉

On Binalot: Meals Wrapped for Convenience

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Open me up!

Say this about the cuisines of Asia: each nation on the continent has its own way of toting about their lunches.  There are metal tiffin boxes on the Indian subcontinent and Japan has its o-bento.  Southeast Asians – particularly those in the Malayan Peninsula and the Philippines are known to wrap cooked rice and viands in layers of banana leaves so as to make meals conveniently portable long before the Americans introduced the concepts of Tupperware and lunch boxes.

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Remove the paper wrap to reveal the banan leaf bundle within

In some parts of the Philippines, specifically the provinces of Laguna and Batangas in Southern Luzon, these bundles of goodness are called minaluto and are usually toted along by families for summer excursions.  In these modern times, they are known simply as binalot – a rather obvious way of saying that the food has been wrapped (Tagalog: binalot).

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Here's the food: Pork Sisig on Rice

Numerous food court stalls, stand-alone diners, and neighborhood carinderias have been serving binalot meals for quite some time now as they are popular, being both tasty and cheap.  For as low as P 65.00 (about US$ 1.38), diners can enjoy a variety of foods served on top of freshly-steamed rice.

Pork and chicken adobo served with a salted duck egg and a fresh tomato is a popular choice, as is sisig, that decadent, highly savory mixture of finely chopped porkloin, pigs’ ears, and cheeks.  Binagoongang baboy, chunks of pork stewed with the classic shrimp paste, is another popular meal.  Beef fanciers, of course, are not ignored by binalot makers as both bistek (beef cutlets cooked with soy, onions, and kalamansi juice) and salpicao (beef tenderloin cooked with garlic) are also available.

Whichever bundle you choose, it’s definitely one that you’ll find satisfying.

Weekend Breakfast: Danggit and Longganizang Lucban

The thing about Sunday breakfasts is that they make for lovely memories on Monday morning and even lovelier things to look forward to throughout another week of drudgery.

Yesterday’s breakfast, in particular, was absolutely savory.  Fr. Jeff‘s recent trip to Bacolod for the thanks giving Mass of the newest member of the Clergy of Paranaque (Congrats, Fr. Topher!) yielded numerous treats specific to that part of the Visayas.  Among the varied edible delights that came our way was a pack of a delicacy much missed on our dining table: danggit

Danggit (rabbitfish, spinefoot, or sleek unicornfish) are small saltwater fish from the Southern provinces that are butterflied, salted, dried, and usually served fried to a crisp.  You eat these crunchy little fishies whole – bones, heads, eyes, and all – dipped in sukang kinurat, rice or cane vinegar where chili peppers, garlic cloves, and peppercorns have been soaked for a long time.

At our house, the rare appearance of danggit does not call for the scrambled eggs or onion frittata that usually accompany such fried dried fish as dilis (anchovies) or espada (needlefish).  Instead, these salty fish go best with the highly spiced, incredibly savory little sausages known as longganizang Lucban.

As the name suggests, these sausages originally came from the town of Lucban in Quezon province, the same place that hosts the glorious Pahiyas Festival year after year.  Longganizang Lucban are classic examples of longganiza de recado or savory sausages, certainly worlds apart from the hamonado – ham-cured or sweet – sausages of either Pampanga or Bulacan in Central Luzon.  In these links, fatty pork is highly spiced with pepper and crushed garlic while a shot of vinegar is thrown into the mix for some extra bite.  Paprika is optional, but when it’s used, the oil exuded by the sausages during frying turns a vivid red.

Vinegar – preferably spiced vinegar – and garlic fried rice are the usual accoutrements for such a meal.  We, however, prefer to savory the dusky saltiness of danggit and the savory flavors of the longganiza against the blandness of plain boiled rice.  Our vinegar is sweet rather than spicy: all the better to temper the garlicky fire and the salt.  Lola Conching’s Vinegar with Wild Honey (available at such shops as Gourdo’s and some major supermarkets) does the trick quite beautifully.

Believe me: it’s the sort of breakfast that makes for weekend bliss.  😀 

Sweet-and-Sour Pork at Home

Homemade Sweet and Sour Pork

Homemade Sweet and Sour Pork

Sweet and sour pork has long been a favorite dish at our house, but our version of it is not the vividly orange-colored dish seen at so many Chinese [and faux Chinois] restaurants.  As a matter of fact, sweet and sour pork at our house is brown, but that’s because of the addition of soy sauce, brown sukang Iloko (cane vinegar from the northern provinces), and brown sugar.

The resulting flavors are not as nose-piercingly sharp as those in commercially-prepared dishes.  Instead, the play of sweet and sour is more subtle and palatable.  It definitely goes down a treat with rice, though.  😉