Just a quick post! For most people, the only breads you can get at your average, ordinary supermarket are standard-issue loaves of mass-produced Pullman or “tasty” loaves of cottony white sandwich bread or buns. Of late, however, supermarkets have been offering better bread choices for customers: the sort that surpass standard-issue loaves in terms of both taste, appearance, and value.
SM Supermarkets, in particular, have begun to offer what the counter-staff refer to as artisan rolls: a selection of filled, shaped breads in assorted flavors. The Irish Crown, a savory bun made with wheat germ, candied walnuts, and blue cheese is one such example. They have other savory rolls and sweet buns as well.
I first encountered the Hebrew word balagan in Saveur issue 137 where it was used to describe the state of peace in Israel and Palestine in recent years. Given the context, balagan means “hot mess”, a total debacle, a situation totally in shambles. Well, balagan – a freaking balagan, as a matter of fact – was pretty much how I described one recent day at work, seeing how I came home close to tears and just ready to throw in the towel or go throttle someone in a fit of rage.
Times like these are not for healthy eating, these are times for comfort eating – and bother those self-righteous fitness trippers who insist that you stick to salads and polystyrene-textured rice cakes. On days when the world is too much with you, your body demands substance to build up your strength, to stiffen your backbone against adversity, to put some heart back into you. Times like these, you need another hot mess to deal with the hot mess you’ve been put through.
Gravy on toast – a concoction of creamed chipped beef that has been known by several names including the nefarious-sounding “sh*t on a shingle” moniker it has gone by in the US Armed Forces – is one such comfort food. There is just something mindlessly comforting about good beef gravy slopped over hot toast: it sticks to your ribs, it soothes your wounded psyche, it helps you sleep better on nights when you feel your worries might keep you from getting forty winks and then some.
Trouble is, dried beef isn’t at all that common in my neck of the woods and I’ve pretty much turned my nose up at those namby-pamby loaves of white bread from the supermarket. That’s where a bit of improvisation comes in…
Instead of making standard-issue brown gravy, I whipped up a curry version of it with leftover meats from the fridge, a bit of potato, some onion, and a bit of milk. Once the hot mess was all cooked and fragrant, I went and sloshed it over a couple of slices of buttered whole-wheat toast. It was, to be perfectly honest, wonderful: the savory curry soaked into the nutty-tasting bread, the butter and meat adding richness, and the spuds adding heft. Needless to say, I slept quite well that night. Tomorrow was, after all, another day…
2 slices whole-grain bread
butter for spreading
2 tablespoons minced onion
1/4 cup diced potato
1/4 cup chopped cooked meat (I used pork in mine, but cooked beef or chicken would also be nice)
1 tablespoon oil
3/4 cube Japanese curry roux
3/4 cup water
1/4 cup milk
Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until softened and fragrant. Add the potato and cook till the spud’s edges have browned. Add the meat and cook for about 30 seconds. Add the water; bring to a boil, then add the curry roux, mixing until it has dissolved. Add the milk and cook whilst stirring until thickened. Remove from the heat.
Toast the bread, buttering it generously afterwards. Place on a plate and pour the curry gravy over the toast. Serve immediately.
Bagnet, the northern spin on the dish known here in the lowlands as lechong kawali (a whole slab of pork belly poached with salt, bay leaf, and black peppercorns before being deep-fried till exquisitely crunchy), is seen as “evil incarnate” by the veggie community but is seen in an almost angelic, even sacred light by all the rest of us. What’s not to like about it: while you obviously can’t have it every day because of both caloric and cholesterol-related concerns, I’ve yet to see anyone who hasn’t enjoyed the tender, flavorful meat and the gorgeously crunchy, slightly salty crackling that tops it all.
I am of the opinion that bagnet ranks smack in the middle between sticky roasted pork belly made magnificent with honey and hoisin sauce and the fatty, smoky, saline glory that is belly bacon. I was pretty much thinking that I was probably wrong about that until I encountered the bagnet from a new stall over at the Galleon Food Avenue: Firebrick.
Firebrick is a wee stall that specializes in the good stuff: proper, porky bagnet with the perfect ratio of meat, fat, and crackling. But the kicker here is that it isn’t deep fried. As the name suggests, it’s actually roasted till the rind crisps up, the fat melts, and the meat steams to a wonted tenderness. As a result, the flavor is more smoky than salty with the sort of resonance you get from artisanal bacon as opposed to the over-salted rashers you sometimes get from your neighborhood supermarket. This is 21st Century bagnet: it has all the crisp-tenderness of the Ilocano original, but the flavors and aroma are swankier, more bespoke, grown-up.
It’s also quite reasonably priced: P 80.00 gets you a bag of chopped-up pork you can share with a friend, while P 85.00 gets you the lunchbox shown above with a generous portion of bagnet, rice, classic sweet liver sauce, and tangy achara (pickled green papaya, carrots, and ginger) to offset the richness of the pork.
I am a sucker for most things lemon- or almond-flavored. The former peps me up while the latter calms me down. So just imagine how I hit the jackpot when I scored a lemon square and an almond biscotti latte over at The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf.
The lemon square, a nice, hefty example of the species, was just the right mix of tart and sweet, the lemon curd smooth on the tongue, the shortbread base properly buttery and crumbly. The flavors went amazingly well with the latte, a seasonal offering, that was just fragrant, nutty, and properly bittersweet.
It was just the thing I needed to wrap up yet another hectic day at work. 🙂
Soft-boiled eggs served with soy sauce and ground black pepper have been staple fare in the kopi tiams (coffee stalls) and hawker centers of Malaysia and Singapore for a very long time. There is just something delectable about them: they are moreish with the right hit of umami – just the thing you need to go with hot buttered toast, maybe a schmear of kaya, and a large mug of kopi c (milky coffee) or teh tarik (pulled milk tea) for a good Peninsular breakfast.
Considering the fact that the culinary traditions of the Philippines echo those of its Indo-Malayan neighbors, most Filipinos have never eaten soft-boiled eggs. In this part of the world, eggs are usually fried sunny-side up, over easy, or scrambled. If eggs are ever boiled, they’re boiled till hard and mixed with mayonnaise and pickle relish for a sandwich filling – if they aren’t sliced up for a garnish or left whole and stuffed into meat loaves or roasting fowl.
That said, my take on this kopi tiam staple has an egg that isn’t quite soft boiled. The appropriate culinary term for the egg shown above is Mollet egg. This French technique involves starting the eggs in boiling water (never cold, though some brave cooks actually do so) and cooking them for around 6 – 8 minutes. The end result is an egg with a firm-ish white and a semi-solid yolk that is utterly unctuous and satiny on the tongue. It is similar to poaching, though you don’t have to crack the eggs into the water; indeed, Mollet eggs can be used in the place of poached eggs for such dishes as eggs Benedict or eggs Florentine.
Best way to eat them, in my personal opinion, is to drizzle on about half a tablespoon of soy sauce and a generous sprinkle of ground black pepper. It is, to be quite honest at this point, like a cross between a kopi tiam egg and Japan’s hot-spring poached in the shell onsen tamago which is served in a similar fashion: cracked and stirred into some soy sauce and a bit of dashi stock. Hot buttered toast and coffee are a definite must.