In Which the Blogger Chills Out at Year’s End…

Sometimes, a sundae is a necessity and not an option.

Mom’s done baking her meatloaf.  Dad’s sliced up the ham.  My sister is chopping up ingredients for tonight’s paella.  Both the bubbly and the sparkling peach are chilling in the fridge.

And I’m getting ready to bake a pane al cioccolato studded with cranberries, macadamias, and more chocolate.  In the meantime, I’m resting up and chilling with a homespun sundae and a good book.

I hope that, as we sit down to feast on all these good things tonight, the coming year will have something good for all of us – especially those who were hit hardest by some of the worst calamities of 2011.

So, from all of us here at home: may you and your families have a Peaceful, Prosperous, and Utterly Delicious New Year.  😀

In Which a Classic Sandwich Turns Into a Satisfying Soup…

Soup is always a welcome sight when you're feeling poorly...

There is something to be said about a steaming bowl of soup when one is considerably under the weather.  It soothes unsettled stomachs and congested noses, calms fevered brows and goes easily down sore throats.  Even if one’s maladies aren’t physical – say, a bad case of the blues – a bowl of soup never comes amiss.

Whole-meal soups – those broths enriched with cream or pureed vegetables and made chunky with chopped meat and more veg – are particularly comforting especially on days when one is short on sleep and one’s body is screaming for rest but can’t because of workaday demands.

Normally, whole-meal soups are served with sandwiches or a good slab of warm bread.  Today’s lunch, however, pretty much scrapped the need for a sandwich or bread – for the basic reason that the sandwich was in the soup!

Chunky and comforting

I got this particular cup from Soup-tastic Gourmet Soups, a little table that serves three different soups every day.  Today’s menu featured crabmeat and corn, a chicken and corn egg drop soup, and this chunky little number: the cheeseburger soup.

Don’t turn your nose up at the notion as it actually works – and it works well.  It’s essentially a rich, creamy chowder made with chicken stock and cream with pre-grilled and chunked beef burger patties, potato cubes, chopped celery, grated carrot, and diced mild cheese.  The flavors are perfectly balanced and even the smallest size (P 45.00) is enough to see you through from lunch till the end of the day.  Bread is absolutely unnecessary and hold the ketchup and mustard.

Soup-tastic Gourmet Soups – Galleon Food Avenue, Ground Floor – BA Lepanto Bldg., Salcedo Village, Paseo de Roxas, Makati.

In Which We Have a Bag of Miniature Surprises…

Hershey's Special Dark Miniatures

Just a quick post on a recent discovery: bags of Hershey’s Special Dark Miniatures!  But, rather than just the dark, smoky-sweet classic, this particular bag has dark mini-bars with either puffed rice (the ones with the orange wrappers) or roasted peanuts (in yellow wrappers like a classic Mr. Goodbar – only with a richer flavor).

However which way you like your dark chocolate, there is certainly something in this assortment for you.

In Which We Swank Up Some Cheese, Fruit, and Nuts…

Petit-Brie en Croute

The thing about the Philippines is that not everyone has been exposed to the huge variety of cheeses produced in various parts of the world.  Thanks to the Americans and the efforts of local advertisers, the bulk of cheeses sold in this part of the world consists of processed cheese food in pale, yellow blocks or jars of violently orange “cheese” spread or what passes for mozzarella on many commercial pizzas.  While global brands like La Vache Qui Rit (The Laughing Cow), Buko from Denmark, and Australia’s Bega have made their way to local supermarkets, most Filipinos remain uninitiated into the love of all salty rich dairy things.

I guess my siblings and I were just lucky to be born in a family that loves to eat and has never hesitated to try anything new.  For this reason, the family’s Holiday table features such mild and creamy treats as proper Brie and Camembert – once-a-year delights that are perfect for smooshing on good bread (homemade is best, but really good store-bought works, too) or for nibbling with fresh fruit.

This year, I was able to find petit-Brie, smaller versions – practically a wee mouthful each – of the classic Brie de Meaux, at the dairy section of Shopwise in Alabang (the brand is Gerard).  Milky-tasting with a faintly mushroom-like savor and just the faintest tang, these are gorgeous when eaten on their own or transformed into those lush, decadent pastries called Bries en croute.

Bottom to top: puff pastry, cherry-nut mix, and a mini Brie

Believe it or not, I actually tweaked the recipe from an ad for Pepperidge Farm puff pastry.  It’s one of those things that allows for substitutions in case you don’t have some of the ingredients.  In this case, I didn’t have the dried cherries the recipe called for or the toasted pecans.  What I did have on hand were some fresh cherries and roasted macadamias – which, I am pleased to say, worked a charm.  Using fresh fruit instead of dried cuts on the prep time (no soaking or plumping involved) and let me use less honey.  This created a sharp flavor contrast between the mild cheese and the slightly tart cherries.  The buttery flavor of the macadamias and the pastry also brought out the richness of the cheese.

The recipe here is flexible, so feel free to swap the cherries for the fruit of your choice (fresh mangoes are nice and ripe, fresh pineapple adds a beautiful sharpness).  Nuts-wise, you can also trade the macadamias in for some toasted flaked almonds or even roasted pili nuts.

This makes a lovely first course for five or a light lunch when served alongside a tossed green salad.  It also works as an appetizer or a part of a tray of canapes when cooled completely and quartered.

Petits-Bries en Croute

  • 5 pre-cut puff pastry squares, thawed
  • 5 miniature Brie cheeses
  • 1/4 cup fresh dark cherries (approximately 6 plump ones)
  • approximately 1/4 cup roasted macadamia nuts
  • 1/8 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon water

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees / Gas Mark 6.  Line a standard lipped baking sheet with a Silpat mat or greaseproof liner; set aside.

Whisk together the egg and the water; set aside.

Chop the nuts and place in a deep bowl.  Stone the cherries over the chopped nuts, allowing the juices to drip onto them.  Chop the cherries and add to the nuts.  Mix in the rosemary and honey.  Place 1/5 of the cherry-nut mixture onto the center of a puff pastry square.  Top with a miniature Brie.  Fold over the edges of the pastry; pinch to seal and place on the prepared cookie sheet seam-side down.  Repeat with the remaining parcels.

Brush the parcels with the egg wash.  Bake for 20 -25 minutes.  Serve immediately.

Serves 5 as a starter or makes 20 small appetizers when quartered.

In Which We Talk About Holiday Meats…

We have the hog...the WHOLE hog...

Because Christmas is, essentially, a winter holiday, meat has played a key role in Yuletide feasts since time immemorial.  Here in the Philippines, while ham is the centerpiece of either the Noche Buena (Christmas Eve) or Media Noche (New Year’s Eve) table, other roasts, bakes, and braises also make their way to seasonal gatherings.

Lechon – that most decadent whole roasted suckling pig – remains king in this regard.  Even the most hard-core vegans find themselves drooling at the sight of this most magnificent of roasts.  Golden-brown skin crisp and gleaming, tender meat simply seasoned with salt with the subtle, almost floral fragrance of fresh lemongrass, it is seriously close to perfection.  Proper lechoneros make their own sweetish brown liver sauce to dribble over the carved chunks of pork and crackling; at this time of year, bottled Mang Tomas should never even be considered.  Fresh-roasted, it goes down a treat on plain hot rice or with an ice-cold beer as part of a pulutan [bar snack] assortment.  Leftovers are best sliced thinly and added to pasta sauces or tucked into buns with some whole-grain mustard for sandwiches.  If you come from a traditional family like I do, leftovers will be cooked down with the liver sauce, some vinegar, peppercorns, and a bay leaf to make that unbeatable stew paksiw na lechon.

Mechadong Baka

Beef, normally a rarity on many Philippine tables, takes center-stage in numerous homes during the Christmas season.  But no beef Wellingtons, no roast barons of beef, no chateaubriands are these; rather, beef is stewed down with other ingredients into grand, Spanish-style braises.

You have caldereta, that hearty, spicy stew with potatoes, carrots, and sliced bell peppers.  You have that egg, pickle, and cheese-stuffed roulade called morcon with its savory gravy.  Then you have mechado – so named because of the lardons (mecha – wicks) of pork fat threaded into the center of the cut of beef – cooked with a rich, slightly sweet, dark-brown gravy.  However which way you have your beef, the ubiquitous plain rice is certainly a must.

QUACK!

Given the adventurous streak my family has (given last year’s crown roast of pork), we had to have at least one unusual meat dish.  This year, it was a whole roast duck from The Classic Roast.  The rich meat went down a treat with the annual paella for a truly grand, festive meal.

So, what’d your family serve for Christmas?