In Which There Are Some Deliciously Unusual Rice Cakes…

Kakaning Laguna

Kakaning Laguna

For a family gathering, one of my cousins surprised us all with a platter of white cubes studded with crushed peanuts and roasted mung beans.

“This is kakaning Laguna,” she explained.

Kakanin is a generic, catch-all term for native sweets which run the gamut from caramel-coated bananas to fluffy rice cakes to steamed logs of glutinous purple rice.  This particular kind of kakanin is made in the town of Binan which has long been known for the eponymous puto Binan, a fluffy steamed sponge sweetened with muscovado sugar which also gives it a characteristic beige hue and a rather plummy aroma.

According to my cousin, kakaning Laguna is made in pretty much a similar manner to shortcut mochi.  Galapong – glutinous rice flour – is dissolved into a liquid; for mochi, it’s a mix of water and a sweetened alcohol.  In this case, however, the flour is dissolved in a rich mixture of coconut milk and evaporated milk.  Roasted and crushed peanuts and mung beans as well as grated cheese are stirred into the slurry and the resulting mixture is cooked in large vats (kawa) over a low fire until it becomes so thick that it’s difficult to stir.  This fudge-like mix is pressed into oiled rectangular tins and steamed for a short while.  Once these have cooled, the cakes are cut up into manageable cubes.

These are delicious little bites: chewy squares that are mildly sweet with a nuttiness imparted by the peanuts and mung beans and a slight saltiness from the cheese which also contributes to make these cakes unctuously rich and moreish.  Most local rice cakes demand a further sprinkling of sugar or latik (the sweet brown crumbles left after boiling coconut milk till it scorches dry) or a roll in fresh, grated coconut (same as our friends Down Under would do with a lamington), but these wee treats are jim-dandy tasty without further embellishment.

In Which We Have Some Ideas for Dinner on Good Friday…

Risotto al Pesto

Risotto al Pesto

Good Friday is coming up this week, a time for fasting and abstinence from pork, beef, poultry, and pretty much all offenses carnal.  It is a time to take a break from the cares of the work-a-day world, a time to reflect on the Passion of Christ and its impact on one’s life (or lack of it thereof).  It is, in the culinary sense, a time for fish and seafood.  Friends in the UK are waxing poetic about such things as their mums’ fish pies and kedgeree.  Meanwhile, Down Under, depending on whether you’re Catholic or Eastern Orthodox, dinner will most likely be a fish stew or a spinach and cheese pie.

Here in the Philippines, with all the fish and seafood available to us, the Good Friday dinner – usually the only meal of the day because the vast majority skip breakfast and lunch as it’s a fast day – has never really been a conundrum.  In traditional households, the following dishes are usually served:

  • Sarciadong galunggong   Whole mackerel (galunggong) are first fried till crisp on the outside before being flash-braised with fresh tomatoes, onions, garlic, and a bit of fresh ginger;
  • Tiyulang [tinolang] isda   This dish features lapu-lapu chunks cooked in a clear, ginger-infused broth with malunggay (moringa) leaves and slices of green papaya or chayote;
  • Bacalao ala Vizcaina   This Spanish treat features salt cod cooked with tomatoes, onions, and garlic in plenty of olive oil.  The resulting dish is traditionally eaten with bread (usually the popular pan de sal or the firmer, chewier pinagong), but I find it most appealing with rice;
  • Pinaputok na Tilapia   Whole tilapia stuffed with fresh tomatoes, onions, and ginger are wrapped in banana leaves and are fried in a covered wok till the fish within is slightly charred and crisp-skinned; and
  • Daing na Bangus   Dried milkfish, usually deboned, fried till crunchy and served with a side dish of diced tomatoes with salted eggs.  May sometimes be accompanied by a steaming hot bowl of ginisang monggo (mung bean stew) flavored with dried anchovies (dilis) or salted fish flakes (tuyo) instead of the usual chicharon (pork crackling).

Recent forays into new restaurants have led to me trying out new things like Trattoria Sicily‘s risotto al pesto which features a timbale of green, basil-flecked rice covered by sauteed clams, squid, fish, and shrimp, the fish katsu from Seoul Tonkatsu over at the SM Megamall food court, and things like laksa and classic fish and chips.  All of them are good and all of them are perfect for the meat-free meal.

For those of you who are keen on cooking on Good Friday, let me share with you my own recipe for kedgeree.  It’s not traditional, though, as it uses Japanese curry roux and tinned fish rather than curry powder and fresh fish.  But, nevertheless, believe me when I say that this dish is certain to satisfy your fasting-induced hunger pangs as well as perk up your palate.

Speedy Kedgeree

  • 2 cubes Japanese curry roux
  • 1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 tin pink or red salmon, drained and contents chunked
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and diced
  • 1 large potato, peeled and diced
  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil
  • 2-1/2 cups water
  • 4 cups cooked rice
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs, quartered

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan.  Add the onions and cook till translucent and fragrant.  Add the carrot and potato and cook till softened; stir in the fish and cook for a minute or two.  Pour in the water and bring to a boil.  Add the curry roux cubes and stir until both have dissolved.  Bring to a boil again and cook, whilst stirring, until thickened.  Serve over the rice; top with the hard-boiled eggs.

Serves 4.


In Which a Feast Comes in a Box…

What's in those boxes?

What’s in those boxes?

The Amber Golden Chain of restaurants is a popular choice when it comes to ordering meals in bulk, particularly for office celebrations.  You can order traditional noodle dishes [pancit] in large, flat baskets [bilao] to feed a crowd, skewers of barbecued pork, tubfuls of fried chicken, and even boxes of pichi-pichi (soft, cassava-starch cakes rolled in freshly-grated coconut) for dessert.  And if you’re flummoxed as to what to feed a crowd, you can always go for their boxed lunches – oh, and what lunches!

You get a little bit of everything, see: a soup-to-nuts meal in a fairly large box.  And no, I’m not kidding when I say that there’s a little bit of everything in each box:

That's a LOT of food...

That’s a LOT of food…

This is the kind of feast that usually comes in a regular Amber boxed-lunch combo:

  • pancit Malabon (thick rice noodles in annato-colored palabok sauce with Savoy cabbage, shrimp, chicharon, and sliced hard-boiled eggs;
  • two lumpiang Shanghai (pork mince spring rolls) with a sweet chili sauce;
  • a skewer of barbecued pork;
  • a chicken lollipop; and
  • a pair of coconut-dusted pichi-pichi.

Not a bad spread, really, and just the thing to feed a crowd.  Note that these combinations are customizable and you can swap the pancit Malabon for soy-sauteed pancit Canton or pancit puti (sauteed white rice noodles with plenty of garlic).  The skewer of pork can be replaced with a slice of grilled liempo (pork belly) and the chicken lollipop with any part of battered fried chicken.  Whatever you choose, though, it’s always good.  🙂

In Which a Healthy Ingredient is Added to a Classic Cream Bun…

Why are there vegetables in my custard buns?!

Why are there vegetables in my custard buns?!

Cream buns have long been a favorite treat in many parts of the world.  It’s practically comfort food for a lot of people: sweet yeast buns split or punctured on one side and filled to the gills with clotted cream, custard, creme patisserie, or clouds of insanely decadent buttercream.  Here in the Philippines, the closest thing we have to these heavenly treats are pastel.  

Not to be confused with the Spanish-inspired local version of chicken pot pie, pastel is a specialty of the island of Camiguin off the northern coast of Mindanao Island in the southern part of the Philippines.  The most common version is a rich, brioche-like bun filled with a large glob of yema (eggy caramel custard).  It’s usually sold in boxes of six and twelve and ferried off by tourists as a rather tasty little pasalubong (homecoming gift/souvenir) to the folks back home.  The most popular pastel are those made by the VjANDEP Company of Camiguin.  Aside from the classic yema-filled buns, they also have variants filled with cheese, chocolate, guava jelly, jackfruit compote, mango jam, candied pineapple, pumpkin cream, strawberry jam, and ube (purple sweet potato).

Since these little rolls are a touch on the decadent side, a company in nearby Cagayan de Oro decided to add a healthy element into the standard recipe: malunggay (moringa) leaves

You'd never suspect there were green-and-leafies in here...

You’d never suspect there were green-and-leafies in here…

Malunggay (Moringa oleifera) leaves have long been touted as a superfood, being rich in Vitamin B6, Pro-vitamin A (beta-carotene), Vitamin C, magnesium, potassium, and calcium.  It is usually added to soups, particularly clear broths made with chicken or shellfish, and may also be cooked with smoked fish (tinapa), onions, and coconut milk for a particularly savory main dish.  In this particular case, the leaves have been dried and ground into a flour which is then mixed with regular wheat flour to make the buns.

But as healthy as these buns claim to be, the real proof of the pudding is in the eating.  Alas, compared to the high standard set by VjANDEP’s scrumptious pastel, these malunggay buns don’t exactly fare well.  The bread is rather dry and the custard within more sugary and grainy than the yema filling I’m used to.  I’m not sure if I just got a bad batch, but this pretender – as healthy as it claims to be – is not for me.


In Which One Bakes a Birthday Cake Full of Blessings…

Best eaten warm, slathered with lashes of butter and orange marmalade...

Best eaten warm, slathered with lashings of butter and orange marmalade…

I’m having a bit of a problem beginning this particular blog post in light of the fact that several people have dropped off from my personal Facebook page for the basic reason that I have spoken out and quite frankly declared that I am a Roman Catholic, I take comfort in my faith, and I bridle up against anyone who slurs it.  It’s sad, but it’s issues like these that let me know who my real friends are, the ones who will stand by me no matter what happens.

My parents are among them. My mother in whom I confide my fondest dreams and my most cherished hopes and my father who is there to give me hugs whenever I need them, who reminds me to pray, to be strong despite the raging tide of insults I have had to deal with for most of my life.  I am actually crying as I type out this particular blog entry because I take comfort in the fact that there are still people who care about me and how I feel regardless of how badly I see myself and how wickedly I am maligned by others.

Since it’s Dad’s birthday today, I wasn’t quite sure as to what to get him for this year.  As a result, I decided to do a bit of baking earlier today to clear my mind and do something a little different.  The end result was this fragrant Mediterranean-style pastry-cake that smells scrumptiously of cinnamon and orange.

Fanouropita, is a Greek dessert that is normally baked in honor of St. Fanourios, the Eastern Orthodox patron of lost things, causes, and unmarried women seeking good husbands.  Like I said in the previous paragraph, it is a cross between cake and pastry (in fact, it bakes up into something which is a cross between a Yankee biscuit and Irish soda bread) made with orange juice and olive oil.  I’ve decided to rename my tweaked-up version Torta di San Antonio de Padua in honor of the Roman Catholic patron of lost things and who also happens to be the patron saint of my brother’s current parish.  I couldn’t really name it after St. Joseph, foster father of Jesus and patron of good husbands (his feast day was yesterday) because he already has the doughnut-like sfinghe made in his honor.

I said my morning prayers as I pressed the dough for this cake into the pan I’d prepared, asking for blessings for my dad on his birthday, to thank God for the blessing of family and friends who continue to care no matter how flawed I am, and to ask for someone to love me and accept me in his life – flaws and all.

Torta di San Antonio de Padua

  • 3-3/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon rock salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • 3/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice or bottled pulpy orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Confectioners sugar

Preheat oven to 350°/Gas Mark 4.  Grease and flour a medium-sized cake tin; set aside. with olive oil and dust with flour, knocking out any excess.

In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, and sugar.  Add olive oil, orange juice, and vanilla and stir to combine.  Work the batter into a dough, kneading it with your hands.  Press into your prepared tin and bake for 45 minutes.  Let cool for 10 minutes in the oven.  Turn out onto a serving plate and dust with powdered sugar.  Serve with butter, jam, or honey.
Serves 12.
Incidentally…  Any leftovers may be sliced thinly and re-baked in a 325°/Gas Mark 3 oven for 15 minutes to become a biscotti-style cookie I call tavolette di San Antonio.