In Which There are Books and Things for the Well-read Foodie…

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Just some of my cookbooks and food mags…

When I was much younger, people often found it funny how I kept borrowing cookbooks from the school library or zeroed in on the recipes section of my mother’s and aunts’ magazines.  In light of my less-than-stellar grades in Home Economics, they found it ridiculous, even ludicrous, that I should opt to read books about food and cookery.  It also helped cement my reputation as the “village idiot” in school, seeing how most of the girls were eschewing food in favor of Kate Moss-esque figures and bulimia nervosa.

Nowadays, though, with food blogging being one of those “chic things to do” for the in-crowd, the same girls who heckled me for reading cookbooks instead of, say, those Sweet Dreams paperbacks that were so popular at the time now fancy themselves well-schooled with regard to food and cooking.  All I can say about this is, “What do you know about food?!  All you read are local food mags; you don’t buy the books, you don’t read the right magazines!”  And, thus, the outcast turns the tables and becomes the snob…

Do you read "Gastronomica" and "Saveur"?  Hell, you probably don't even KNOW what they are!

Do you read “Gastronomica” and “Saveur”? Hell, you probably don’t even KNOW what they are!

Call me a culinary elitist, call me a snob even: I won’t deny it.  Because I love to read and I love food, I actually take the time to hunt down books and magazines that some people think are rather obscure, possibly unheard of in this part of the world – and this despite global exposure via the internet.

But, as in any field, reading actually helps broaden one’s horizons and shows that there is a world out there beyond Philippine shores and the nerve-wracking world of Top Chef on Yank cable telly.  That said, I feel particularly blessed at being given a penchant for tracking down pre-loved tomes and magazine back issues whenever I can’t find new copies or releases at the more upscale bookshops.  It is a hobby I ascribed to one of my characters in my current novel-in-progress:

When I got home later that day, I went up to my room and looked over the bookshelves that lined one of the walls.  For all that I didn’t have a social life and I rarely ever spent my money on clothes and shoes and nights on the town like most women my age, books and kitchen things were my biggest expenditures.

The books in my room were a mix of cookbooks, food-centric biographies, and food-centric travelogues.  Even my magazines revolved around food and cooking; it was a passion I had from the cradle.

Some had been bought at the best bookstores both here and abroad, others were gifts from relatives…  Most, however, had been lucky finds at second-hand bookshops, pre-loved tomes and periodicals that found a home with me.

Some people who collect cookbooks don’t actually cook; indeed, some just leaf through them, fantasizing about how wonderful the dishes in the photos tasted.  Not me: I pored through every single one, trying out recipes, making notes about ingredients and instructions, substituting one thing for another.

...and still more books.

…and still more books.

Here are a few of my favorite picks:

Magazines

  • Donna Hay – The Aussie kitchen queen beats Yankee Martha hollow with her super-simple and totally scrumptious recipes and tips for making one’s table a true feast for all the senses.
  • BBC Good Food – UK – Amazing recipes, cooking tips, and insights on food-related social issues such as the decline in the number of farmers providing wholesome food.  It often features surprisingly easy-to-do recipes from Britain’s best chefs, including a Masterclass section presented by the Scots Hellion himself, Gordon Ramsay.
  • Saveur – Helmed by Top Chef Masters judge James Oseland, this US mag is perfect for armchair travelers as it takes readers on a culinary tour to various parts of the world, imparting knowledge about local food customs as well as recipes.
  • Gastronomica – This is the “thinking foodie”‘s magazine with beautifully researched articles on food culture, issues, and personalities.  Gastronomica also features tasteful, artistic photo essays focused on specific ingredients, putting them in a different light.
  • Jamie – Jamie Oliver’s eponymously named magazine promises to make you a better cook.  I’ve not tried all of the recipes, but it’s fun to read and gives a foreign lass like me a good look into modern Brit gastronomy both in and out of the home.

Authors/Books

  • Nigella Lawson – Nigella pretty much speaks to the voluptuous glutton that I am.  She writes like a gloriously greedy sort with her vivid, lip-smacking descriptions of dishes old and new.  Her first book, How to Eat, doesn’t have any pictures, but with the way she describes the food, who needs ’em?
  • Anthony Bourdain – Tony B. rocks with his bad-arse/no holds barred/somewhat angsty way of describing life in the kitchen (Kitchen Confidential), the search for the perfect meal (A Cook’s Tour), and living life the way he wants to and not the way the world demands (No Reservations).  As exciting his travels are to watch on television, Bourdain really hits the spot with his frank, no-nonsense prose and wry sense of humor.
  • Cooking for Mr. Latte by Amanda Hesser / Comfort Me with Apples by Ruth Reichl – The thing about foodie autobiographies is that they are so much more delectable to read than most – and in more ways than one.  Hesser’s account of her food-driven courtship and eventual marriage is punctuated by recipes that run from the almost stupidly basic to the most gloriously complicated; it’s the sort of book that can give you ideas for any number of dinner parties.  Reichl, on the other hand, speaks poignantly about change in a story that spans over twenty years from her first gig as a restaurant critic to her divorce and remarriage and to the long-awaited birth of her son, all of which are marked with unusual dishes that are as spicy and as vivid as the events themselves.

So, why settle for the local when you can go global?  All it takes is a simple turning of pages to expand your horizons.

In Which There is Some Relief for the Christmas-Sated…

Rose-scented Lemonade

Rose-scented Lemonade

Much as I love Christmas food (and, subsequently, Christmas leftovers), it does get a tad too rich for comfort once the 28th rolls around.  Human livers, I believe, can only take so much; we can’t all stuff ourselves like Strasbourg geese, after all.  😉  That said, here are a few tips to get your digestion back in working order:

  • Pass on the Booze  The thing about alcohol is that it’s all empty calories when you get to the bottom of things.  Plus, the hangovers can be particularly nasty.  I say stay clear of the booze in the week between Christmas and the New Year.  If you live in the chillier parts of the world, stick to coffee, tea, hot chocolate, and steamed milk.  If, however, you live in the tropics or in either Australia or New Zealand where it’s currently summer, pep yourself up with homemade sippers like a lightly-sweetened iced tea or lemonade spiked with mint, elderflowers, rosewater, or a tincture of lavender.

Veg, veg, and more veg…

  • Bring on the Veg  Vegetables are your best friends in the week between Holidays.  Soothe your system with a crunchy salad or a veg stir-fry with green beans, baby corn, and carrots tossed with some chopped spring onions and a hint of sesame oil.  Also, skip the chips and crisps and snack on raw celery and carrot sticks; sweet jicama (singkamas) also help curb cravings for anything sugary.  And don’t forget the fruit: with apples and oranges flying all over the place, you may as well get your 5-a-day;

Sardine Puffs

  • Fish is always a good choice.  After all the fowl and meat on your family’s groaning boards, fish is a most welcome change of pace.  Steam fresh whole fish and serve with a light dip made of lemon juice, soy, and some ginger, eat sashimi from a reputable source, or gussy up tinned fish like tuna or sardines into fritters or puffs.  If you live in the Philippines, dried fish – tuyo or daing – simply fried and served with plain white rice and sprinkled with spiced vinegar is totally ace.

If you can follow all these suggestions and do some exercise over the week, I’m pretty sure you’ll be just fine.  Now, about the New Year feast…

 

 

In Which the Blogger Conveys Her Very Best Wishes for Christmas…

With all the terrible things that have happened in 2012, – the violence in Syria, the recent shootings in Connecticut, and the complete and utter destruction in Mindanao due to Typhoon Pablo – I think that peace and hope should be the first items on everyone’s Christmas list for this year.

From my family to yours, a very Merry, Peaceful, and Blessed Christmas to you and everyone you love.

In Which Seasonal Vegetables are Made Seasonally Decadent…

Brassicas en bechamel

Brassicas en bechamel

Under ordinary circumstances, broccoli and cauliflower retail at about P 45.00 – 60.00 a head.  Then, as I was heading home from running errands a few days ago, the vegetable vendors plying their trade around the Alabang Viaduct and the Public Market gave me a serious jolt by selling humongous heads of both cauliflower and broccoli at a measly P 10.00 (Us$ 0.24 / UK£ 0.15) apiece!  Needless to say that I went and snagged a head of each and rushed home to prepare these treasured veggies for dinner.

This particular recipe is a spin on one done by UK celeb-chef Lorraine Pascale and was featured in the January 2012 issue of BBC Good Food.  It is, basically, a variation on classic cauliflower cheese but is given, so to speak, some spring to its step through the addition of mustard, chives, and a generous portion of strongly-flavored cheese.  Indeed, the recipe appeared under the name Gruyere and mustard cauliflower cheese.

Because I didn’t use just cauliflower in this dish, I can’t really refer to it as a “cauliflower cheese.”  Instead, given how it involves two members of the cabbage (Lat.: brassica) family and the sauce blanketing it is, essentially, a bechamel, I just called it like I saw it: Brassicas en Bechamel.  

It makes for a rather spiffy side dish that goes beautifully well with a roasted chicken.  (Homemade or store-bought, it works nicely either way.)  It is deliciously cheesy yet you can still taste the real flavors of the vegetable and the crisp topping of cheesed-up breadcrumbs is particularly appealing.  The fact that the vegetables are roasted prior to being swathed by sauce keeps them crisp-tender and flavorful – something you can’t achieve by boiling those veggies to death.

This dish can also double as a vegetarian main course if you’re feeding a veg-crazy crowd.  I can also see it as a viable alternative to most Christmas side dishes; I am of the opinion this would be magnificent served alongside either turkey or baked ham.

Incidentally, to amp up the nutty flavor of the vegetables, I suggest you use a hard-core, strong-tasting, particularly pungent cheese.  Stilton and Roquefort work, and so do strong cheddar and the local kesong puti (a fresh, white, carabao’s milk cheese with a particularly sharp flavor with a smooth finish on the palate).  And, because it’s quezo de bola (those round, red-wax-coated balls of aged Edam or Gouda) season, I see no reason why it shouldn’t be the cheese of choice for this dish.

Brassicas en Bechamel

  • 1 large head cauliflower, broken into florets
  • 1 large head broccoli, broken into florets,
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 30 grams butter
  • 30 grams all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon or American-style prepared mustard
  • 300mL milk
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 60 grams strong-flavored cheese, coarsely chunked
  • 2 tablespoons panko or plain breadcrumbs
  • generous dash of black pepper
  • 30 grams grated Parmesan or Edam

In a medium-sized baking dish, toss the florets with the olive oil.  Cover with aluminum foil.  Heat oven to 450 degrees / Gas Mark 7 and place the prepared baking dish in immediately; the vegetables will roast as the oven heats up.

In the meantime, melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat.  Add the flour and cook for about a minute, stirring from time to time.  Add the mustard.  Turn the heat down very low and slowly pour in the milk, whisking vigorously to prevent lumps from forming.  Keep whisking until the mixture has thickened.  Turn the heat back up to medium and bring to a boil whilst still stirring.  Allow to cook for a minute, then remove from the heat.  Add the strong-flavored cheese and the chopped onion; mix well.  Season with the black pepper.

Take the roasted veg out of the oven and remove the foil.  Pour over the sauce and mix well to ensure that the vegetables are evenly coated.  Combine the panko and the grated Parmesan; sprinkle the mixture over the vegetables.  Bake for an additional 20 – 25 minutes or till the sauce is bubbling and the topping is a golden brown.  Remove from oven and allow to cool for about 2 – 3 minutes before serving.

Serves 6 as a side dish; 4 as a vegetarian main.

 

In Which There Were Wee Green Treats Among the Biscuits…

A fascinating bunch of homemade biscuits

Along with some madeleines, a few Klowi’s Challenge cookies, a slice of my newfangled orange-and-milk-chocolate pound cake, I threw some friends for a loop when I included several green-tinged biscuits in their Christmas tubs.  With everyone else giving away common things like food for the gods (date-nut bars), chocolate chip cookies, and even rum-and-butter cakes, I wanted to give my friends something different yet totally delicious.

These grass-green bickies are pandan-and-ginger shorties, delicately sweet cookies with a moreishly crumbly/sandy texture flavored with pandan (screwpine) flavoring and some ground ginger.  They evoke other local delicacies associated with the Yuletide Season: suman (steamed logs of glutinous rice) lightly flavored with pandan and fresh ginger, steamed puto (rice flour muffins), and puto bumbong (logs of purple glutinous rice steamed in bamboo tubes [bumbong] and slathered with butter, sugar, and fresh-grated coconut).  But these are a modern, more portable, and more easily snackable version of all these old-school goodies.

These are perfect with old-school salabat (ginger tea) or extra-thick Spanish hot chocolate (tsokolate eh) after the traditional Misas de Gallo (dawn Masses) that mark the Christmas season in this part of the world.

Pandan and Ginger Shorties

  • 250 grams all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup salted margarine, softened
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 100 grams granulated white sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon pandan flavoring (To get the green color, I used Ferna Flavocol which doubles as a colorant.)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees / Gas Mark 4.

Cream together the butter and 100 grams sugar till light and fluffy. Whisk in the egg and the [andan extract and mix till well-combined. Add the flour, baking powder, and ginger and mix till the mixture is about the texture of mashed potatoes. Roll level tablespoons of the dough into balls and roll in the cardamom sugar. Place on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake for fifteen minutes.

Makes 36 cookies.