In Which the Blogger Has an Amped-up Brownie Recipe…

One pot is all you need for the best brownies ever...
One pot is all you need for the best brownies ever…

Call it a bad case of brownie envy: a month or so ago, I found myself reading and rereading an article on Food52 about Alice Medrich’s best cocoa brownies.  

Medrich’s brownies are the [still evolving] end-product of years of experimentation wherein various kinds of chocolate in different levels of intensity were used and eventually swapped for really good cocoa powder melted together with the butter and sugar.

The method she used is actually the same as that for the cake brownie recipe from The Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook: you melt the butter and sugar over medium heat in a saucepan with the cocoa, then stir in the rest of the ingredients.  Just one pot; no need for another mixing bowl.  Melt, mix, pour into your baking tin, and bake – et voila.

The batter itself is so good, you might save a bit to spoon over vanilla ice cream...
The batter itself is so good, you might save a bit to spoon over vanilla ice cream…

My version actually features both cocoa powder and chopped-up dark chocolate, along with coffee to really amp-up the flavor of the chocolate.  I’ve toyed with the proportions of flour and cocoa and finally settled on a 1/4 cup cocoa to every 1/2 cup of flour.  I’ve done away with the milk in the original TBH&GNC recipe and swapped it for a cup of instant cappucino prepared with hot water.

The end-result of this particular experiment?  Brownies that are more fudgy and dense as opposed to being cakey and fluffy; a moist, dark treat that fills your mouth with loads of smoky chocolaty goodness pushed up by the salt in the butter and the caramel overtones in the brown sugar that partly sweetens this particular recipe.

Baking the brownies for only 15 minutes as opposed to the 18 – 20 minutes called for in the original recipe also keeps the finished product lushly moist.

Come an' get 'em!
Come an’ get ’em!

I know the name of the recipe is a tad superfluous, even pompous, but it’s the only way I can properly describe them.  Truth be told, the ended up like the brownies we used to buy at Goldilocks when I was a wee kid; Goldilocks doesn’t make brownies like these anymore, so I’m better off baking them myself.

Incidentally, this is the sort of brownie whose flavor improves over a day after baking and an overnight rest in the fridge.  They’re much lusher, certainly more moreish, and more decadent that way.  Don’t forget the glass of cold milk!

Most Definitely Magnificent Fudge Brownies

  • 1 cup dark brown sugar (get the darkest you can find)
  • 1/4 cup granulated white sugar
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup salted butter
  • 1/4 cup vegetable shortening
  • 2 eggs
  • scraped seeds from 1/2 vanilla bean (save pod to make vanilla sugar or infused rum/vodka)
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond or hazelnut flavoring
  • 1 packet instant cappuccino, dissolved in enough hot water to make 1 cup of liquid
  • 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 100 grams frozen dark chocolate truffles, coarsely chopped
  • 100 grams 65 – 70% dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup dark chocolate-covered raisins, cranberries, or blueberries, chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped unsalted mixed nuts (I used Kirkland Unsalted Mixed Nuts which contains cashews, pecans, pistachios, and almonds), divided

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan (preferably an enamel one) over medium heat, melt together the sugars, cocoa, butter, shortening, and vanilla.  Cook whilst stirring constantly until the fats have all melted and the mixture starts to boil.  Remove from the heat and allow the mixture to cool for a couple of minutes.  In the meantime, pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees / Gas Mark 4; grease a rectangular baking tin.

Stir in the prepared cappucino and mix well.  Whisk the eggs into the cocoa mixture until well-combined.  Sift in the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and baking soda; mix until well-combined.  Add half the nuts and all the chopped chocolate and stir until more or less well-distributed throughout the mixture.  Pour into the prepared tin and sprinkle over the remaining nuts.  Bake for 15 minutes; remove immediately from the oven and leave to cool for ten minutes before cutting.

Makes approximately 36 squares.

In Which a Riff on Italian Sausage Makes for a Hearty, Flavorful Lunch…

Mmm...  Salsicce Veneziana!
Mmm… Salsiccia Veneziana!

The grilled sausage plate from Almon Marina has long been one of my favorite go-to weekend lunches.  The quality, you see, is consistently good: the sausages are meaty, properly seasoned, and grilled to a turn.  The tomato-rich pilaf and the creamy potato salad make the perfect foil to the goodness of the sausages.

I was hankering for the saucisson San Marco – those small, garlicky Franco-Basque sausages akin to the piquant, locally-produced, and equally savory longganizang Lucban – but was informed that it wasn’t available.  In its place, the counter-staff pointed me in the direction of the salsiccia Veneziana.

If you love the bulk Italian sausages crumbled onto pizza, I daresay this particular sausage will appeal to you.  The meat used for the Veneziana is a mixture of pork and lean veal, both coarsely ground so that the forcemeat pumped into the casings is chunkier than the spongier sort used for such sausages as the more popular Hungarian links, frankfurters, and cervelat.  The forcemeat is seasoned with salt, pepper, and the dynamic duo of sage and thyme that gives Italian sausage much of its savor.  The sausage is then grilled till the casing crisps up and is dusted over with finely-chopped parsley before serving.

Unlike the shorter, stubbier, two-link serve for the saucisson San Marco, the Veneziana is served as a single, large link with the pilaf and potato salad.  Despite the fact that it is considerably leaner (and thus has less nubbins of fat) than most sausages, it is surprisingly succulent and brings out the taste of the tomatoes used to color the pilaf.  The taste also balances out the slightly sweet and fairly peppery flavors in the potato salad.

All said, it is the sort of meal that is perfect for the balmy, somewhat chilly weather that has descended upon Manila at this time of year.  Now, if only Almon Marina could sell the sausages alone so I can replicate this fine meal at home…  😀

In Which the Blogger Scores New Finds at a New(ish) Convenience Store…

What I found at Good Day...
What I found at Good Day…

When I started working in Makati again after a rather long spell in Quezon City several years ago, a little convenience store on the corner of Buendia and Makati Avenue was one of the best places to get an interesting boxed lunch whenever I found myself in the Salcedo Village zone at noon.  The store was called C-Mart and it served up a number of offerings that were quite different from the usual round of sandwiches, steamed buns, and deep-fried stuffed bread that were the usual menu selections from other stores.  Seriously: it was one of the few places where P 100.00 could get you a boxed lunch consisting of rice and two mains – and such mains: lemon chicken and spring rolls, Korean beef ribs and pa jeon (squid omelet), tonkatsu and yasai itame (mixed veg stir-fry) with silken tofu.

C-Mart has since transformed itself into Good Day.  Billed as a premium convenience store, it’s actually more like a Japanese konbini or a gourmet deli because of all the Japanese, Korean, Malaysian/Indonesian, and Chinese groceries it offers from ready-to-drink beverages to drink mixes, snacks, and meals.

I was thrilled to see single-serve Owl and Chek Hup mixes for white coffee and teh tarik (Malayan pulled milk tea) on the shelves and happily went and bought a few which I found most interesting.  The teh tarik mixes were both ace: richly flavored with black tea, properly frothy when made up, fragrant, and just sweet enough.  The white coffees were also rich and good, but the gula melaka (palm sugar) variant from Owl definitely takes the cake for being properly bittersweet.

Also found: Oishi Oaties Milk, a fiber-enriched dairy bev that is so much better for you than regular milk – and it tastes good, too.

Believe it or not, there is enough popcorn here to feed your entire department at break time...
Believe it or not, there is enough popcorn here to feed your entire department at break time…

Darda Popcorn, a Korean import, is another great find.  Weighing only 45 grams each, these mini-tubs hold an astonishing amount of popcorn and come in a number of fascinating flavors.  Those currently available here in the Philippines are butter and cheese, creamy caramel, and this little monster: the Super Mix.

Like it says on the label, the popcorn within is a mix of butter, peanut, chocolate, caramel, strawberry, and plain salted.  There are no unpopped kernels, no overly chewy ones, either: the popcorn is a delightful mix of regular fluffy popcorn and the more spherical mushroom kernels.  Each kernel is crisp, properly seasoned, and coated with just enough flavor-glaze to keep it interesting.  I daresay this would be the perfect thing to take to the movies.

HOW much caffeine is in there?!?
HOW much caffeine is in there?!?

And then, there are the Jitterbeans.  These are coffee-infused chocolate candies laced with the stimulant guarana.  I got these for my sister who’s way into coffee, but I don’t have the guts to try these for myself.  The “take one piece of candy a day only” caveat gives me the shivers…


In Which Oven-Braising Yields a Delectable Pork Dish…

Super-tender, succulent, melt-in-your-mouth pork
Super-tender, succulent, melt-in-your-mouth pork

I have a confession to make: I am not entirely comfortable working with pressure cookers.  I have never really worked on what I refer to as the big stews, the stuff braised till tender in pressure cookers.  I think it stems from the time I went and bore the brunt of the accident when a pressure cooker on the kitchen hob blew up and I ended up getting hurt.  (Long story; all I will tell you is that it involved a tripe stew.)

That said, I’ve been hard pressed to cook braises in a different way.  I’ve tried slow cooking for hours (no dice; the stuff still ended up tough and dry) and parboiling the meat before adding it to the rest of the ingredients.  Nothing, alas, worked.

But when I modified a recipe recently, I got amazing results!

The following recipe involves oven-braising pork belly in a sweet and tangy sauce modified from the caramelized chicken recipe I featured a few months ago.  As this involves pork – and a fatty cut of it, in fact – I took out all of the olive oil in the original recipe.  Instead of thyme, I added equal amounts of dried basil and oregano.  For this particular dish, you pop the meat – marinade and all – into a baking dish  The end result: sweet, savory pork that melts in your mouth in the best way possible.

I recommend serving this dish with flour tortillas or Chinese pancakes (the kind used for crispy / Peking-style duck) or, better yet, Chinese-style steamed buns (kua pao) with spring onions and lettuce to go with the caramelized onions and lightly roasted tomatoes that come with the dish.

Oh, one other thing, don’t trim off the skin from the pork belly.  It may not crisp up into crunchy crackling, but it becomes delectably soft, rich, meltingly chewy, and moreish.

Caramelized Pork Belly

  • 1/2 kilo skin-on pork belly
  • 2 large red onions, peeled and cut into wedges
  • 2 tablespoons sweet chili sauce 
  • 3 tablespoons tomato ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 3 plum or Roma tomatoes (the ovoid ones), quartered

In a large ceramic bowl, combine the ketchup, sweet chili sauce, soy, Worcestershire sauce, sugar, basil, and oregano; stir well until the sugar has more or less dissolved.  Add the pork and the onions; rub the marinade well into the meat.  massaging it into the chicken.  Cover and marinate at room temperature for at two hours.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees / Gas Mark 6.  Add the balsamic vinegar to the bowl, rubbing the meat well.  Place the meat and onions in a large baking dish; pour the marinade over all.  Bake for 25 minutes, then turn the pork over; bake for an additional 25 minutes.  Add the quartered tomatoes to the dish; bake an additional 10 minutes.

Remove the dish from the oven.  Place the pork, tomatoes, and onions on a serving dish.  Serve with tortillas, Chinese pancakes, or kua pao and fresh, crisp greens and finely-chopped spring onions.

Serves 8.

In Which Dinner was a Glorious Platter of Steak and Eggs…

Steak and eggs with all the trimmings for dinner
Steak and eggs with all the trimmings for dinner

To say that the evening traffic in Makati is a horror story would be a serious understatement. For the past few weeks, my commute home has run for over two hours as opposed to the hour and a half it used to take.  If I get out of work at around 6:15 or 6:30, chances are that I won’t get home any earlier than 8:30 PM because the traffic is bad and, thanks to those idiots over at the MMDA and their harebrained traffic management schemes that change almost every other day, buses heading south are few, far in between, and every single one that does pass through is packed fuller than a tin of sardines.

In which case, all I can do is linger in the city a bit longer than usual, just till the crowds thin out and more buses start rolling on the roads.  Lingering, however, calls for a proper dinner before the ride home.  Fortunately, a recent discovery in Makati’s Salcedo Village got me a meal that was more than decent; in fact, it was pretty gosh-darned good!

I ♥ Backyard BBQ shares space with Bento Box, one of my favorite Japanese restaurants, along Leviste St.  As its name so obviously suggests, it specializes in just about everything fresh off a grill – quite fitting for a chain that got its start feeding the beach-going crowds in Boracay.

Proof that it got its start on the beach: the inflatable pink oar stuck to the wall
Proof that it got its start on the beach: the inflatable pink oar stuck to the wall

You could get a decent steak meal here for just under P 300.00.  Don’t expect fine dining, though; this is bare-bones comfort food.  (The kitschy decor consisting of quirky road signs and inflatable oars ought to be a dead giveaway.)  No frills, no fancy foie gras-enhanced concoctions, no truffles chocolate or otherwise: they prepare meat on the grill, lump it up on superheated cast-iron platters, and serve it with crunchy onion rings, fried eggs, and soy-garlic rice.

The sirloin steak platter shown above was good: the beef was buttery, tender enough to cut with the edge of a spoon, and seasoned so well that the little tub of gravy on the side seems unnecessary.  (It does, however, make an excellent dip for the crisp, crunchy onion rings that come with the dish.)  It goes well with the savory flavor of the rice and the egg makes it a rich, almost decadent meal.  I take issue with the dish of mixed vegetables, though: while served hot, these were swimming in butter (literally!) and were a touch too stodgy, seeing how potatoes were used instead of jicama or chayote.

Nevertheless, it was a filling, deeply satisfying meal that put a little heart back into me along with a bit more stamina with which to face the long road home.