In Which There is a Sweet Salad at the End of the Year…

Necessary ingredients

Frozen fruit salad has long been part and parcel of my family’s Media Noche or New Year’s Eve feast and is also featured on e Holiday menus of many Filipino households. The combination of fruit and cream is considered a refreshing end to a meal that has consisted of numerous rich & varied flavors.

The ingredients are as simple as can be: tinned fruit cocktail and all-purpose cream are all you need, really. Some families toss in such additional ingredients as kaong (palm fruit preserved in sweet syrup) and nata de coco (a cultured coconut gel preserved in sugar solution), or even such embellishments as nuts & raisins. Others add shredded buko (the meat of a young green coconut) and green-tinted pandan-flavored gelatine cubes; still others prefer a much sweeter concoction and throw in a tin of condensed milk for good measure.

Fold everything in

My family’s recipe involves a combination of both tinned and fresh fruit – a happy mixture if there ever was one. This year, we used tropical fruit cocktail, a mix of cubed pineapples, papaya, & Maraschino cherries, augmented by diced apples and seedless grapes. Cubes of nata de coco & some chopped nuts were also thrown in for textural contrast & extra flavor.

Given how the fresh fruits are all considered symbols of prosperity, this is just the thing to sweetly end one year and start the next. Happy New Year, everyone, & I hope that the best is yet to come! ūüėČ

Come and get it, y’all!

Prosperous Fruit Salad

  • 1 kilo tinned fruit cocktail, drained & syrup reserved for another use
  • 500mL all-purpose cream or double cream
  • 4 medium ripe apples, peeled & diced
  • 1 cup ripe seedless grapes
  • 1/4 cup chopped nuts
  • 1 cup nata de coco, drained

Place all fruit, nuts, & nata de coco in a large mixing bowl. Add the cream and fold in until all the ingredients are well-coated. Put the salad in a covered container & freeze until about 1/2 an hour before serving. Allow the salad to ripen at room temperature for half an hour; serve.

Serves approximately 15.

In Which the Blogger Acquires a Grill Pan…

Happiness is a properly-cooked steak...or two
Happiness is a properly-cooked steak…or two

Most women receive their Christmas bonuses and use them to buy pretty dresses, cosmetics, gorgeous (albeit uncomfortable) shoes, and jewelry. ¬†I, however, am not like most women. ¬†I’d rather spend my money on more useful things: notebooks and pens for scribbling, aromatherapy gear to help relieve my stress and that of those around me, and – of course – cooking equipment and proper ingredients. ¬†For this Season, I finally went and got myself a¬†grill pan.

I guess I could blame my father for this acquisition; he’d seen a TV advertorial touting the merits of using a grill pan as opposed to a standard-issue non-stick frying pan for cooking meat, fish, and veg and had opined aloud that such a piece of equipment would not be out of place in the family kitchen. ¬†I’d seen several types at various department stores and kitchen equipment shops, some costing as much as P 2,000.00 (about US$ 45.08) for a thin, cast-iron piece with rather flimsy hinges and a wobbly handle. ¬†Fortunately, I was able to grab a sturdy non-stick grill pan with a properly screwed-on handle and a grooved surface for a fraction of that price at The Landmark in Makati, seeing how I managed to squeeze into the kitchen gear sale for year’s end. ¬†(It was a steal at P 350.00 – just roughly under US$ 8.00!)

It has become a key piece of equipment for me. ¬†Since it’s non-stick, you don’t have to grease it before using it. ¬†(Though you do need to wash it out thoroughly prior to first use.). ¬†It’s been a handy thing for cooking most of the family’s favorite foods: soy-marinated chops, gorgeously meaty and succulent sirloin steaks, eggplant simply seasoned with salt and pepper, and even whole fish stuffed with a fragrant mix of tomatoes, onions, and ginger. ¬†Really: all you need to pair with these dishes is a crisp, green salad with a tart dressing and a hot platter of rice and you are set.

For those of you who have grill pans but haven’t had the opportunity to use them, here are a few tips:

  • Take US Iron Chef¬†Cat Cora‘s advice and make sure that you make your pan smoking-hot. ¬†To do this, heat your pan over medium-high heat till steam starts wafting up and adjust the heat;
  • Don’t be afraid to use flavorful marinades, though – especially in the case of fish or beef steaks – a generous sprinkle of sea salt and some cracked black pepper make your food flavorful enough;
  • Don’t, under any circumstances, overcook your food! ¬†No one likes nibbling on charcoal, after all;
  • If using the pan to cook steaks, the rule of thumb is to cook your beef for¬†three minutes on each side for¬†rare meat¬†and¬†five minutes on each side for¬†medium;
  • Vegetables best suited for grilling are large mushrooms (Australian buttons and portobellos are perfect), eggplants, bell peppers, beefsteak tomatoes, and courgettes (zucchini);
  • Whole fish such as tilapia tend to cook a bit longer than fish steaks, so allow 10 – 15 minutes per side.

To get you started, here’s a little recipe for¬†pan-grilled pork belly that is deliciously flavorful and cooks rather quickly – a perfect choice for midweek dinners.

Sweet Pan-grilled Pork Belly

  • 1 kilo pork belly, butterflied so it lies flat on your grill pan
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine¬†or¬†cooking sherry
  • 2 tablespoons¬†light¬†soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed, peeled, and minced finely
  • generous dash of ground black pepper

In a non-reactive bowl, combine the wine, soy sauce, garlic, honey, and pepper until well combined.  Add the butterflied pork belly and massage in the marinade.  Cover and leave to soak for at least 1 hour.  (You can also save time by mixing the marinade in a covered plastic container and allowing the pork to soak in the fridge overnight.)

Heat your grill pan over medium-high heat till smoking hot.  Place the butterflied belly onto the grill, brushing any leftover marinade on top.  Grill for five minutes or till the underside the nicely charred on the surface; turn over and cook the other side for an additional five while brushing more marinade on the cooked side.

Remove from heat and allow to rest for five minutes before cutting into serving pieces.  Arrange on a serving platter and serve with either a green salad or spicy pickled vegetables such as Korean kimchi.

Serves 6.

In Which Holiday Baking Doubles as Quiet Time…

Butter, sugar, peanut butter, chocolate - looks like a plan...
Butter, sugar, peanut butter, chocolate – looks like a plan…

For most people, the act of baking for the Holidays is a seriously stressful and wearying experience.  For me, however, I consider it quiet time for myself; a period of peace and introspection, a time when my hands can be busy while my mind rests for a bit.

It is, to be honest, an interesting time for me.  For starters: I finally quit my job.  I made the conscious decision to start afresh and to renew a tired body and an even wearier mind before setting out to do better things with my life.  The past twelve months were weird, to say the very least; I could not seem to psych myself into becoming enthusiastic about the things I did for work.  I kept getting sick: bouts of what seemed like the flu, then the flu itself, and stomach troubles.  I was a tenser-than-a-coiled-spring mess who found herself trying to fathom what to do next.

Despite a short, depressing spell when I considered giving up writing for good, I have continued to write. ¬†I was able to post a few short stories online this year and the tragedy of Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan got captured in verse. ¬†My current novel-in-progress, The Rebirth of Meras, continues to spin out, albeit slowly of late. ¬†But the story goes on and I keep writing and building it up. ¬†Perhaps, next year, I’ll be plucky enough to see it published. ¬†It may not earn me a pretty penny, but it’ll help build the foundations for a proper writing career.

And, of course, I have my cooking and baking to keep me relatively sane. ¬†Though I was sort of out of it during my last few weeks at work, cooking and baking have anchored me and enabled me to regain a certain degree of focus. ¬†I’m now considering trying new recipes and writing a proper cookbook – an endeavor that some may consider silly or even stupid, but I consider it a worthwhile challenge. ¬†Everyone else can go bury their heads in the sand!

A finished cookie box for friends...
A finished cookie box for friends…

As Christmas looms on nigh, I have again settled myself in the kitchen. ¬†Creaming butter, whisking batters, kneading dough into submission for scrumptious cookies and brownies to be given to friends and family – it’s all very therapeutic for me.

I can only hope that this Season brings a clearer sense of reason into my life and that the coming year holds a promise of better things to come.

Merry Christmas, everyone. ¬†ūüôā

In Which There is Hopia from an Old-School Shop…

Hopia anyone?
Hopia anyone?

Hopia¬†(Ś•Ĺť§Ö, known in other parts of Southeast Asia as¬†bakpia)¬†– flat-surfaced pastries filled with a sweet paste and cooked on a flat griddle – have long been a popular snack among Filipinos. ¬†First brought into Southeast Asia around the turn of the last century, these little treats take their name from the Fujian Chinese phrase¬†h√≥-pi√° which literally means “good pastry”. It consists of a flaky puff-style pastry made with lard (as opposed to Western puff which is made with butter) encasing a filling made of mashed and sweetened mung beans. ¬†It belongs to the same group of Oriental sweets as Chinese mooncakes and the chestnut or sweet yam-filled¬†manju¬†of Japan and Korea.

Hopiang monggo – the kind filled with sweet mung bean fudge – is the most popular kind sold in the Philippines and is made by a number of reputable Chinese bakeries and sweet-shops. ¬†But the gold standard, in my family’s opinion, is barely even commercial. ¬†In fact, you’ll have to trek all the way down to the¬†Quinta Market¬†in Quiapo to taste it.

Welcome to the factory!
Welcome to the factory!

The Master Hopia Factory¬†is a tiny bakery located in the side of Quiapo known as Echague, just past all those stores hawking native crafts beneath Manila’s Quezon Bridge, a stone’s throw away from the Islamic Quarter, and a short walk to the famed Church of the Black Nazarene. ¬†The mixed cultural heritage of its location, the historical significance of the nearby¬†Quinta Market, and its interesting menu of offerings have made it a go-to spot for both local and foreign foodies for decades.

Still fresh and warm from the griddle – and only P 8.00 apiece!

For starters, hopia is its primary stock in trade.  (Obviously!)

The hopiang monggo are a bit smaller than those sold by bigger players such as Eng Bee Tin and Polland, but they certainly are more flavorful.  The crust is a bit charred, giving it a smoky flavor and a crisp texture.  The smokiness of the crust helps even out the richness of the mung bean fudge within Рand the fudge itself appears to be sweetened with less sugar than its commercial counterparts, allowing the natural taste and sweetness to shine through.  The resulting cakes are crisp and crumbly when you bite into them and the filling is creamy and moreish.  Just the thing, I daresay, to go with a hot cup of coffee or tea.

You can choose from a number of flavors
You can choose from a number of flavors

If hopiang monggo doesn’t crank your chain, Master Hopia also offers a number of other flavors that you could choose from.

On the traditional side, you can opt for the hopia kundol¬†or the¬†hopia pinya. ¬†The former is filled with sweetened wintermelon (kundol) mixed with a bit of fat pork; for this reason, it also goes by the name¬†hopiang baboy or “pork¬†hopia”. ¬†The filling for the latter is more obvious: a rather thick, tartly-sweet pineapple jam.

But this particular shop also offers some savory options.  Cheese hopia Рtraditional hopia pastry wrapped around processed Cheddar-style cheese food Рis also on sale, as is a ham-and-cheese version featuring slivers of Hoc Siu ham.  The latter is rather Season-appropriate, seeing how Hoc Siu ham is a Holiday staple in many Filipino homes.

The classic hopiang monggo goes for P 8.00 (US$ 0.18) apiece; the fancier kinds go for P 10.00 (US$ 0.22) each.

Different dough, fancier design
Different dough, fancier design

The store also sells the doughier hopiang Hapon РJapanese-style cakes- which feature a sweet adzuki bean puree wrapped in a thicker, more buttery dough.  The resulting cakes are given a fancy design by being molded in a press and are baked in an oven as opposed to being cooked on a griddle.


There are also a number of other sweets Рcookies, polvoron  (Spanish-style milky shortbread bites, sometimes coated with compound chocolate), Chinese peanut bars, and local pastillas (milk or jackfruit-flavored fudges) Рfor sale, along with locally made tapioca crisps, shrimp chips, and tamarind candies.

You can also buy ampaw Рthose crunchy sweet puffs of deep-fried rice dough rolled in crushed peanuts, puffed rice, or toasted sesame seeds, meringues, and a selection of savory nibbles such as dried anchovies and teriyaki-flavored squid bites.

It is truly one of those stores where there is definitely something for whatever it is you’ve been craving for. ¬†It’s a bit out of the way, but the treats are always worth a trip.

Master Hopia Factory Inc.¬†–¬†206¬†Villalobos St,¬†Quiapo, Manila