In Which Anchovies Look a Little Different…

A platter of deep-fried dried anchovies

Unless they’re from the coastal provinces of France, Italy, and Spain, most people in the West are aware of anchovies as these headless, boneless, heavily salted little strips of fishiness canned in olive oil and used sparingly as either a pizza topping or as the primary flavoring agent for the dressing on a Caesar salad.

Here in Asia, however, anchovies are enjoyed in so many different ways.  While most commonly enjoyed dried and mixed with arare (rice crackers) and nori as the Japanese version of Chex Mix, anchovies are also eaten fresh – usually filleted and batter-fried like whitebait.  One recent supermarket discovery, as shown above, was a packet of dried, filleted anchovies.

A closer look...

Just like their unfilleted counterparts, these anchovies are sun-dried with a bit of salt and are best prepared deep-fried till crunchy.  These are gloriously flavorful without much fishiness and have an appealing smoky aftertaste.  Served with diced tomatoes dressed with a bit of patis (fish sauce; nuoc mam) with garlic fried rice, these make for an ambrosial breakfast.

One other way to use them: deep-fry till crunchy, as usual, then crumble over homemade (or store-bought) okonomiyaki or takoyaki to add additional flavor.  😉

In Which a Bit of Provence Makes its Way into Shortbread…

Shortbread dough ready for baking...

Lavender may not necessarily be one of my favorite colors (in truth, it’s one of the hues I loathe), but the blossom that bears the name is one of my personal favorites for therapeutic qualities, its lifting aroma, and its peppery flavor.  So, when I found a recipe for lavender sugar in the June 2010 issue of BBC Good Food, I knew I had to make myself a batch.

Lavender Sugar

This gorgeously perfumed sugar adds a sweet yet peppery nip to baked goods and savory sauces.  (I actually recommend using this to add pepperiness to barbecue marinades.)  It’s also a cinch to make.  But, seeing how obtaining fresh lavender is a near-impossibility in this part of the world, dried lavender buds work as well.  Here’s the recipe should you want to give it a go:

Lavender Sugar

  • 1 cup granulated white sugar or granulated Splenda
  • 2 teaspoons dried lavender buds

Mix together the sugar and lavender buds in a clean bowl.  Pour into a clean jar and close tight.  Shake the jar occasionally to allow the lavender to permeate the sugar.  Store in a cool, dark place until you want to use it.  You can easily double or triple the amount, by the way.

Now, according to Good Food, lavender sugar goes down a treat when added to shortbread instead of regular sugar.  That in mind, let me also give you my recipe for Equinox Shortbread – quite aptly named as we are experiencing the change from winter to spring in the west and from cold to summery here in the tropics.

Equinox Shortbread

  • 1 cup soft margarine
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup lavender sugar, sifted
  • 1-3/4 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon lavender tincture
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 200 grams dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon lavender buds, optional

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees / Gas Mark 4.  Grease a standard cookie sheet or line it with greaseproof paper; set aside.

Cream the margarine and sugars until light and fluffy.  Add the egg yolk, vanilla, and lavender tincture; mix until well combined.  Sift in the cornstarch, then the flour in 1/4 cup batches.  Mix until a soft dough is achieved.

Press the dough into the prepared cookie sheet.  Bake for 20 – 25 minutes.

Let the chocolate melt, then smooth it over...

Remove from oven and scatter the chocolate over the surface of the shortbread base.  Return to the oven and bake for an additional five minutes.  Remove from oven and smooth the now-melted chocolate over the base until evenly covered.  If desired, scatter lavender buds evenly over the chocolate topping.  Allow to cool before cutting into bars.

Makes around 30.


Guilty Pleasures Shortbread

Variation: Turn these cookies into Guilty Pleasures Shortbread by chilling the uncut, chocolate-iced shortbread for about an hour, then spreading crunchy/chunky peanut butter evenly over the top.  Cut into bars afterwards.

In Which We Find Mochi in an Unlikely Place…

Doughnuts and then some...

Mochiko, glutinous rice flour, is best known as the primary ingredient for such things as [obviously!] mochi, Chinese nian gao, Filipino sapin-sapin, and Korean tteok. Of course, it would be so easy to think that’s where it all ends.

And then one encounters these mochi doughnuts from JiPan.

These are unbelievably soft yeast-raised doughnuts made with a blend of mochiko and wheat flour.  Frosted with either a subtle-tasting matcha and white chocolate icing or a decadent dark chocolate icing, these are lightly sweet, more tender and pillowy than the usual dough rings flogged by any of the major chains.  Plus, at only P 14.00 (about US$ 0.32), they’re definitely an affordable little nosh.

(And, while at JiPan, you must order the kouign amann, too!)  😀

In Which We Talk About Tortang Patatas

Cheese and Potato Frittata

During the forty days of Lent, we never expect ham, bacon, sausages, tocino, tapa, and chicken nuggets to put in an appearance on Friday mornings at our house, much as some of us do crave them.  Instead, we are served fish prepared in myriad forms: sardinas guisado, tuna-fish frittata, an assortment of dried and salted fish fried to a crisp and served with tomatoes.  On Fridays when we aren’t in the mood for fruits de mer to show up on the table, we have a salad of salted eggs mixed with finely chopped onion and diced tomato or Chinese-style eggs scrambled with tomatoes and a bit of soy sauce.

And there’s tortang patatas – a Spanish-style frittata made with eggs and diced potatoes.  Deceptive in its simplicity, it was immortalized by the late National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquin in the March entry of his Almanac for Manilenos as one of those non-negotiable, utterly necessary dishes for the season of Lent.  To Joaquin, tortang patatas is in the same league as ginataang kalabasa (kabocha squash cooked with onions and a bit of dried fish in coconut milk) and amargoso con huevos (ampalaya – bitter gourd – sauteed with onion, garlic, and tomatoes, then scrambled with a few eggs) as one of his all-time favorite vegetable dishes.

The dish is actually a thinner version of tortilla de patatas, a classic Spanish dish that is popular throughout that part of the world.  In Spain, these frittatas are usually three to four inches thick and are served cold or at room temperature as either a vegetarian main (one of many viands for a typical Spanish lunch or dinner), part of a selection of tapas as pincho de tortilla (a small cube of frittata speared on a toothpick or oyster fork), or a sandwich filling when tucked into a crusty bun or mini-loaf (bocadito de las patatas).

In the Philippines, however, these are best served hot off the pan with generous dabs of tomato ketchup or a dot or two of Tabasco.  At our house, we even add an extra shot of flavor via the addition of grated Edam cheese to the beaten eggs.  Throw in some hot buttered toast or a steaming plate of rice and you’re set for an excellent meatless meal.

Torta con Patatas y Queso

  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons grated Edam cheese (Parmesan and Pecorino would work as well)
  • 2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced small
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons oil or butter for shallow frying

Whisk the cheese into the beaten eggs.  Set aside.

Heat one tablespoon of the oil or butter in a pan.  Saute the onion until tender and translucent.  Add the potatoes and cook, whilst stirring, until brown and rather crisp at the corners.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Remove the cooked veg from the pan; set aside.

Add the remaining oil or butter to the pan.  Return the cooked veg and spread evenly over the surface.  Pour the egg-cheese mixture evenly over the vegetables.  Cook until the edges are brown and crisp and the sides are slightly set.  Slide onto a plate and flip onto the uncooked side.  Cook until the bottom has browned.  Remove from heat and serve immediately.

Serves six.

Incidentally, don’t make the mistake of serving this with banana ketchup as some Filipino households are wont to do.  Trust me: it’s a flavor combo that doesn’t work.


In Which a Cheering Cake is Baked…

Just out of the oven...

Saturday night was one of those disheartening times when all I wanted to do was just curl up in bed and cry, burned out as I was with work, familial demands, my currently non-existent social life, and life in general.  Definitely not a good state to be in!

So, I went to sleep and, come morning, I decided to channel all my rage into baking what has to be one of my best cakes yet: a lemon-mango gateau yaourt.  Plus, it was a timely thing to bake: it was my father’s 63rd birthday and I figured he’d appreciate the gesture.

The cake is similar to the Sky at Dusk cake I made for my sister’s birthday last August, only this one was a lovely pale yellow as opposed to the dark purple original.  Nevertheless, let me assure you that this cake is gorgeously lemony, fragrant, and there are little tidbits of sweet mango to let you know that summer’s here.  The lemon cheesecake frosting is similar to the filling for my lemon-blueberry shortcakes and adds a salty-sweet counterpoint.  I suppose a generous ladling of rich ganache would also go over well if you aren’t in the mood for cream cheese, though.


A good square of this is bound to cheer you up!

Summer Morning Birthday Cake

  • 1 small container mango or peach yogurt + enough milk to make 1 cup
  • 2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1-3/4 cups sugar
  • 1 cup salted butter, softened
  • 1 tablespoon lemon flavoring or finely grated lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Grease and flour one 9″ x 13″ rectangular cake tin; set aside.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees / Gas Mark 4.

Cream together the butter and sugar till light and fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition.  Add the lemon flavoring and stir until the mixture is well-blended.  Sift in half the flour and pour in half the yogurt mix; stir well.  Add the remaining flour and yogurt mix; mix well.  Combine the vinegar and baking soda and stir into the batter until well combined.

Pour into prepared cake tin and bake for 30-35 minutes.  Remove from oven and allow to cool for thirty minutes.

Modified Lemon Cheesecake Frosting

  • 1/2 cup (half a 225g block) cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 tablespoon lemon extract
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar or granulated Splenda

Mix all ingredients until well combined.  Spread frosting evenly over the surface of the cooled cake.

Makes twelve servings.

Variation: To make a Summer Sunset Cake, replace the mango or peach yogurt with strawberry, cherry, or mixed berry yogurt and the lemon flavoring in both cake and frosting with a tablespoon of either strawberry flavoring or raspberry liqueur.