In Which We Have a Garlicky Potato Treat…

Potato Mushroom Dumplings

The past couple of weeks have been totally insane: long hours at the office, traffic jams that extended my travel time from about 45 minutes to well past an hour, strange weather that’s blistering hot at one moment then followed by torrential rain.  Small wonder, then, that I’ve found myself utterly drained and unable to indulge in even a wee bit of cooking or baking on weekends.  Fortunately, preparing things in advance has proven to be a great help when it comes to managing to whip up something nice for a Saturday afternoon snack or a nice side dish to go with a store-bought roast or a mess of fried chicken.

For this particular recipe, all I had to do was boil up some potatoes, garlic, and carrots till they were tender.  Stored in a covered container in a fridge, they kept rather nicely till the weekend when I heated the lot up in a microwave, mashed them up with a bit of butter, a splash of milk, and a sprinkle each of salt and pepper.  The addition of tinned mushrooms made the mash a bit more substantial than usual, adding flavor and a meatiness.  Rolled into deep-fried dumplings, these were utterly lovely – and I felt much better for working in the kitchen even for a bit.

Incidentally, the flavors in this dish are just plain gorgeous: potatoes, cheese, mellowed-down garlic, herbs, and mushrooms give an earthy, umami character while the carrot added a slight sweetness.

Garlicky Potato Dumplings

  • 1/2 kilo potatoes, peeled
  • 1 large carrot, peeled
  • 5 large cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 tablespoon rock salt
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 small can button mushrooms, drained and finely chopped
  • additional salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 grated Parmesan cheese, halved
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
  • oil for deep-frying

Boil the potatoes, garlic, carrot, and rock salt in enough water to cover till tender.  Remove from the heat, drain, and set aside to cool.

Mash up the cooled veg and add butter and milk.  Mash until a smooth-ish puree is formed, then mix in the mushrooms and half the Parmesan.  Leave to chill for an hour or overnight.  Form the mash into balls, using about 1 tablespoon of mixture for each.

Heat the oil in a wok or large saucepan.  Combine the flour, remaining cheese, and Italian seasoning on a plate and dredge the potato balls in it.  Deep-fry the balls until golden brown.  Drain on a plate lined with paper towels and serve as soon as possible.

Makes approximately 2 dozen dumplings.

You can serve these with a salad for a vegetarian main or drizzle over some balsamic and stick in some toothpicks to serve these as cocktail snacks.

In Which the Blogger Tries Her Hand at Baking a Madeira Cake…

The cake was definitely a star in more ways than one…

When I was a kid, I encountered the term Madeira cake a number of times while reading, of all things, a number of British cookery books I found in the school library.  It was up there with such treats as the almond-and-currant Dundee cake and the checkerboard-patterned Battenberg cake as a classic Brit teatime offering.

In Audrey Willsher’s novel A Candle in the Wind, a tale set in the Victorian era, the heroine Tess is served a slice of Madeira cake by a kindly, well-off neighbor who wishes to take her in as a lady’s maid.  The cake in that particular scene is described as golden, fluffy, and buttery – the polar opposite of the hard bread that is the staple bakery good of choice in Tess’s household.  In that context, Madeira cake is a symbol of the good life as perceived in Victorian England, an aspirational dessert that poorer folk strove for and one enjoyed practically every day by those who were well-off as part of the afternoon tea spread.

The closest thing to Madeira cake in this part of the world is butter cake – the localized version of American pound cake – which is more stodgy-textured than the glorious fluffiness described in many books where Madeira cake appears.  This isn’t bad, really, but last weekend, everyone at home wanted cake – gloriously fluffy plain cake that would nevertheless taste rich and luxurious.

That said, my version of Madeira cake is a lighter version of my rum cake recipe and is, like the traditional version, flavored nicely with lemon to balance the richness.  Incidentally, don’t shun the alcohol on this one: you can barely taste it once the cake is baked, and it helps achieve the wonted fluffy softness.

Rich, golden, buttery…

Madeira Cake

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 softened salted butter
  • 1/2 cup soft margarine
  • 2 teaspoons lemon flavoring or 1-1/2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
  • 1/2 cup dark rum
  • 1/4 cup lemon vodka or limoncello or still lemonade
  • 3 whole eggs
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1-1/2 cups granulated white sugar

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and soda.  Set aside.  Grease and flour a large, fluted cake tin.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees / Gas Mark 4.

Cream together the sugar, margarine, and butter until light and fluffy.  Whisk in the eggs and beat until well-combined.  Add the lemon flavoring, rum, and lemon vodka and stir till the mixture looks curdled.  Add half the milk; stir, and add 1/2 of the flour.  Pour in the rest of the milk; stir, and add the remaining flour.  Mix until well-combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared tin and bake for 55 minutes.

Turn the cake out onto a serving platter immediately.

Makes twelve servings.

Anyone want mamon tostado?

Incidentally…  Oh, another thing you can do with Madeira cake? Thinly slice any chilled leftover cake and pop into a toaster oven for 5 – 8 minutes. Et voila: you get a traditional Spanish-Filipino biscuit –  mamon tostado! Spreading these crunchy rusks with Nutella or cream cheese is optional but highly recommended.

In Which Local Cheesemakers Step Up the Game…

Malagos Chevre

The Philippines is not nor has it ever really been a dairy-centric country, so cheese has never really been a part of local diets unless it’s kesong puti , the haloumi-style fresh cow’s milk cheese that goes so beautifully with hot pan de sal.  The rest of the time, the only cheeses many Filipinos are aware of are  the processed Cheddar-style kind used for grating over what passes for spaghetti Bolognese in this part of the world, those thin slices used for fast-food cheeseburgers, or the round, red, wax-covered balls of Edam or Gouda referred to as quezos de bola that are part of the Yuletide feast.

But Davao’s Malagos Farmhouse way down south in Mindanao is changing the food scene by offering a variety of cheeses made according to French methods.  This company offers blue cheeses, surface-ripened (Camembert/Brie-style cheeses) cheeses, and fresh cheeses made with either cows’ milk or the more robust goats’ milk.  Every single one of the cheeses I’ve tried has been deliciously good: the blues are as perky and as pungent as Stilton and work nicely on rustic bread and even the barest smidgen of either chutney or Branston pickle.  The surface-ripened best-selling Blue Pepato is mild and nutty and given fire and character by the addition of green peppercorns; it is a treat served best with sliced apples.

Incidentally, it also tastes great when paired with Cheddar and spring onions for a quesadilla…

And then there is the chevre that has become one of my favorites.  As its name suggests, it is a goat-milk cheese but this one is done in the fresh style, similar to local kesong puti, but with a tangier flavor and a creamy-grainy texture as opposed to being sliceable.  It’s a wonderful breakfast cheese that lends itself well to being spread on toast or bagels, tossed into a tortilla with some Cheddar and spring onions for a quesadilla, and even for filling cheese omelettes.

In Which a British Icon is Given Sweet and Peppery Twists…

Fish – check. Chips – check. Dip – wait, is that peanut butter?!

Fact: fish and chips is a British classic.

Fact: fish and chips is most commonly seasoned with salt and malt vinegar.

With these two facts in mind, most people are actually happy with the way things are.  Seriously, unless it’s prepared by an incredibly slapdash cook, you can never really go wrong with fish and chips.  The moreish fish is crunchy and golden outside, white and moist within if done well.  The chips ought to be of similar texture: golden and crisp outside, fluffy within.  Salt is wonderful on them, malt vinegar adds a welcome tang that brings the mild flavor of the fish into high relief.  Nothing can be simpler.

But, of course, you’ll always have someone upping the ante in the hope of improving something that’s more or less perfect.  Peanut Butter Company is one such place.

The battered fish here is cream dory as opposed to either cod or haddock, so the flavor is much milder and is rather buttery.  The coated fish is fried till a bit darker than golden (more bronzed, I would think), so its crust tastes somewhat nuttier though is as good.  It’s also a tad crunchier, so it might not go over too well with those who prefer the surface of their fish to shatter on contact with their teeth.

The chips in this particular dish are thickish discs of good, unpeeled potato (not taking the skin off keeps the vitamins in) dusted in the sort of peppery flour characteristic of Shakey’s nigh-on-legendary mojos, so each bite is salty and spicy all at the same time – and they’re definitely moreish.

It’s the dip that really sets PBCo’s chippie plate apart from all the rest.  It’s basically a mixture of house-made peanut butter – the shop’s primary stock in trade – with egg mayonnaise and finely grated cucumber.  It’s sweet, creamy, surprisingly delicious as a matter of fact, and works as a refreshing counterpoint to the richness of the fish and spuds.

Speaking as a bit of a fish-and-chips purist, this won’t really be making its way into my list of favorites though it is pretty smashing.  I would, nevertheless, recommend it wholeheartedly as a rather unusual and delicious lunch for one.

In Which Starbucks Brings Back One of the Blogger’s Favorite Desserts…

Come to mama, baby!

Under ordinary circumstances, I don’t head over to Starbucks for the desserts.  For one thing, some of the things they sell are either too bloody sweet or too freaking bland – and, either way, a tad too pricey and just not worth it.  For another, whenever Starbucks does have amazing desserts on its menu, they’re usually seasonal – and, once the season’s over, they disappear.  Most of the time, as in the case of the amazing lemon polenta, they disappear forever.

And then, as it happened, they brought back one of my serious favorites back: the green tea and berry cheesecake.

Oh.  Dear.  Gods…

When this dessert first appeared in September 2007, it was part of a seasonal offering and was paired with an equally decadent green tea and blackberry Frappucino.  It was a deliciously Baroque confection where a matcha-infused cream cheese filling was poured over blackberry compote in a thin pastry crust, then topped with a white chocolate-and-cream cheese fondant icing before being sprinkled with matcha powder.

The new incarnation of the dessert does away with the pastry crust and, instead, uses a more conventional one made with Graham cracker crumbs.  The crust is, mercifully, spared from being mediocre by the addition of coarsely chopped toasted walnuts that add plenty of welcome crunch.

I am please to say that, taste and texture-wise, Starbucks has kept it the same way it was back in ’07:

It was good: the thick layer of cream cheese was sweetened most subtly and the bitter-almond flavor of the matcha was balanced by the creamy richness. There was enough of the syrupy [black]berry filling to provide a tart counterpoint flavor to the whole thing.

That ain’t coffee, bub; that’s Japanese tea – SMOKY Japanese tea.

This time around, the blackberry-green tea frap isn’t available but there are two new seasonal and Japanese-inspired treats: the matcha and adzuki bean Frappucino and the hojicha Frappucino with Earl Gray jelly.

Of the two, the hojicha frap gets my vote of confidence because it’s so deliciously smoky, not too creamy or icy, more bitter than sweet.  The hint of bergamot in the Earl Gray jelly adds a citrusy freshness to it and, since the jelly is unsweetened, it is just plain mind-blowing.  You get the nuances of two kinds of tea, two different intensities – one sharp and citrusy, the other smokily floral – that make for an unlikely but tasty combination.  This is, so to speak, not going to be everyone’s cup of tea: most Filipino palates will dismiss this as too bitter to be any good.  But, for me, the hojicha frap is perfect – and, with its flavors, it’s also the best thing to pair with the cheesecake.

Now, if only Starbucks could make both of these a regular feature on the menu…