In Which Midge in the Kitchen Turns Nine…

Ice cream is for celebrations...

Ice cream is for celebrations…

This is, to be brutally honest about the whole thing, a seriously delayed post. Midge in the Kitchen‘s anniversary was actually in May, but because of everything that has happened since I changed careers in March of this year, I completely pushed it to the side. Of course, this is not to say that I’m completely putting this blog on the back-burner; far from it as a matter of fact.  For the past nine years, this blog has been a serious source of both strength and comfort for me.

It is a chronicle of how my kitchen became, in a way, both a classroom and laboratory: a place in which I could experiment with recipes I’d read about in books or in other blogs.  It became a place of learning, of trying to get dishes right through trial and error, constant practice.

It became a way of sharing experiences with the world: food sampled and enjoyed, products pulled off the shelves and tried, bits and bobs of a life away from the tedium of one’s office-work.  Through this blog, I’ve met numerous people from different parts of the globe, made friends, found mentors.  In the process, despite the fact that opportunities to fly abroad have been virtually non-existent for me since 2002, I have a window to the world and a taste of different cultures, different lives, varying points of view.

I don’t know at this point in which direction Midge in the Kitchen will go over the next several months, but I assure you that I will keep this blog up and keep writing it.  Why?  Because, in the process of writing about food and the experiences related to tasting it or preparing it, I am doing more than just relating another food review or sharing another recipe: I am feeding my soul and helping nourish the people around me.

In Which the Popcorn was a Sweetly Salty Mix…

Sweet, salty, and nutty!

Sweet, salty, and nutty!

Popcorn has long been the go-to snack of movie-goers (butter, sod it; don’t skimp on the butter!), impulsive snackers (it’s crunchy and you can gobble scads of it in one go), and chronic dieters (hold the butter and the salt).  Even a die-hard potato-crisp-munching sort such as yours truly will willingly fall back on popcorn if push comes to shove.  In my case, however, it would have to be in the form of PopCorners popcorn crisps (the ones that look like tortilla chips, the crunchy triangular kind), a tub of Chef Tony’s Popcorn either in cappuccino-almond or green tea & cashew), or this most recent find: the Chicago Mix from the Chicago Popcorn Shop.

As its name so obviously states, Chicago Mix was born in the Windy City.  The original was first made and is still being sold by the now-legendary Garrett Popcorn Shops.  This unusual but highly addictive combination of caramel and cheese popcorn came about just after the Second World War when customers would buy a bag of each and awkwardly combine them to enjoy the sweet and salty mix of flavours.  In 1949, the folks at Garrett decided to mix the two flavors up, finally striking the balance between sugary caramel and tart, salty Cheddar.  Since the combination spread like wildfire throughout Chicago with imitators popping up almost immediately, the Chicago Mix was born.

Of course, one needn’t fly all the way over to Illinois to get a fix of Chicago Mix; local franchise Chicago Popcorn Shop replicates the treat just as well – with its own twist.  Crisp, fluffy popcorn bites are well-dusted with a tangy Cheddar powder or drenched with a buttery caramel that hardens into a snappy, sugary glaze.  Candied cashews and roasted almonds are thrown in to add a toasty crunch to the whole thing.

I confess that the Chicago Mix is seriously addictive; you won’t want to nosh on anything else for quite a while.  😉

In Which the Beef Tendons Were Magnificently Decadent…

Such savoury richness!

Such savoury richness!

I’ve always been big on offal. When I was a kid, offal-based dishes such as dinuguan (pork blood stew) and bopis (sautéed pork hearts, lungs, and liver) appeared on the dinner table on market-days.  Pork skin would be dried in the sun for a few hours, then deep-fried in its own rendered fat to make chicharon that would be such a pleasure to snack on or added to soups and stews to add meaty depth and savour.  Sisig, that unbeatable combination of pig’s ears, cheeks, and liver soured with vinegar and flavoured with garlic, is a joy to eat alongside a cold beer or over rice with fried eggs.  And there’s callos – my mother’s Spanish tripe stew – as well as the Scots haggis I’ve grown to love over time.  Yes, I’ve always been big on offal and my favourite kind was recently given a gloriously simple yet deliciously decadent spin at one of my favourite restaurants.

Luk Yuen has always been one of my family’s go-to noodle houses for decades, its noodles and congees consistently good and its spareribs with chicken feet always superb.  Recently, though, Luk Yuen has been sprucing up its menu offerings with such things as braised beef buns, shrimp with cashews, and poached spinach with century eggs and glass noodles.  But the most appealing dish among these new offerings has to be, in my personal opinion, the beef tendon over flat noodles.

Beef tendon on noodles is, really, nothing new in the Filipino-Chinese dining scene; virtually every noodle shop worthy of the name has some version of it, usually a soupy or a spicy one.  The one served at Luk Yuen sits on the fence between dry/wok-fried and simmered in soup: braised beef tendons served on top of blanched flat wheat noodles, a brothy sort of sauce puddling underneath the lot.

Most versions of the dish I’ve had have featured tendons that were chewy on the outside and stringy within – or not cooked well enough to be bitten into sans the risk of breaking a tooth!  But here, they are totally transformed from not-very-desirable offal into a beautifully decadent treat.  The tendons are braised until meltingly tender: soft to the bite, dissolving into unctuous, almost creamy goodness in your mouth.  These are pressure-cooked, I presume, in a broth made headily fragrant with anise, cassia bark, and a touch of shaoxing wine.  The end result is deliciously meaty with a pleasant sweetness reminiscent of such classic braises as pata tim and three-cups chicken.  Eaten with the noodles, it becomes a meal fit for a king – nay, an Emperor of old, if I may wax poetic!  (Yes, they were that delicious!)  It is certainly rich and would be in a fair way to be too rich, but that is where the faint scattering of scallions and a drizzle of sharp, sour kalamansi lime come in – to cut the gooey, creamy richness down to a more manageable level.

You must definitely drink tea with this one.

You must definitely drink tea with this one.

I would not recommend drinking anything sweet or alcoholic with this dish; that would really be too much.  Water, alas, wouldn’t be enough to wash down the unctuousness.  The best drink to pair with these tendons is good old-fashioned tea; you need the tannic character to add balance.

In Which Mangoes and Cream Make a Dreamy Dessert…

Dessert looks creamy enough...

Dessert looks creamy enough…

In the southern United States, peaches and cream are seen as the very epitome of an indulgent summer dessert and I can’t blame them: it’s one of those classic combinations that works without fail.  The soft, rounded, bordering on floral taste of sun-ripened peaches is tempered and made dreamy by the addition of billowy clouds of whipped cream.  Ambrosial, even.

Here in Southeast Asia, however, the concept of having fresh peaches to go with a dish of cream is virtually nonexistent, for the basic reason that peaches don’t grow here and most people have only ever had tinned peaches – and usually the kind in very thick, heavy sugar syrup, to boot.  But if peaches are sorely unavailable in this part of the world, we have a substitute that – in the collective opinion of people throughout the Southeast Asian region – actually is much better than those golden orbs: mangoes.

We are still in the thick of mango season here in the Philippines and, while we really would rather eat them fresh at the peak, these fleshy golden fruits also lend themselves well to being sliced for creamy, dreamy desserts.  Case in point: the mango float.

Fruit, cream, and graham crackers.  What more would you want?

Fruit, cream, and graham crackers. What more would you want?

A mango float is a dessert of the refrigerator-cake variety: a no-cook, trifle-style thing made by layering sliced mangoes with sweetened whipped cream on a Graham cracker crumb crust. It doesn’t get any simpler than that.

It is easy enough to make at home; Lord knows that virtually every middle-class Filipino family has its own version of it.  At my own house, however, we prefer to whisk egg yolks into the whipped cream to turn it into custard and we freeze the end-result for something more akin to ice cream rather than trifle.  (We call it a Mango Supreme and it’s more of a semifreddo, really.)

But with everyone busy right now, it’s nice to know that you can get a decent mango float for P 58.00 at your local MiniStop.  Surprisingly good, it has more crumbs and cream than fruit, but it has enough mango chunks to keep any mango junkie happy.  😀

In Which Breakfast was an Indian-inspired Bowl of Goodness…

A breakfast loaded with sweet fruit, nuts, & cream

A breakfast loaded with sweet fruit, nuts, & cream

Here in the Philippines, the common perception of Indian cuisine is that it is highly spiced, curry-intensive, distressingly aromatic (Indeed, people who are fond of Indian food are accused of having dreadful body odour.), and certainly not for either the faint of heart or the tender-tongued.  This is a seriously prejudiced notion, considering that regional South Asian cuisine has a number of options that are very mildly flavoured and the selection of sweets has something for just about everyone.

I’m a serious dairy fan and I love the fact that there are many milk-based desserts and drinks intrinsic to South Asian cuisine.  I’ve been known to wax poetic over lassi, that tangy yogurt milkshake flavoured with either mango, cardamom, or rosewater/rose syrup.  I can gobble down scads of gulab jamun half-drowned in either orange-blossom or rosewater syrup.  There’s kulfi, of course, the almond-infused ice cream of the Indian Subcontinent that goes down a treat on its own or as part of a selection of mithai (Indian sweets) for a celebration.  I’ve not sampled faluda or barfi, but I find the notion of both intriguing and worth sampling someday.

Most recently, though, I’ve been intrigued by the concept of shrikhand.

Anyone up for amarkhand this morning?

Anyone up for amarkhand this morning?

I first encountered the term in an article/recipe feature in Food Network Magazine about recipes several celebrity chefs learned from their mothers.  Aarti Sequeira (Aarti Party!, Taste in Translation) contributed her mother’s recipe for shrikhand and pooris for the section: the former a rich, sweet, creamy yogurt and the latter a puffy doughnut-like fried dumpling for dipping into the aforementioned yogurt.

Further research on the matter led to me discovering that shrikhand is a dessert intrinsic to the culinary culture of Maharashtra and Gujarat in Western India.  It basically consists of chakka, yogurt strained through layers of muslin/cheesecloth until it is the texture of very thick clotted cream, and sweetened with sugar and such sweet spices as cardamom and cinnamon.  Pistachios are added to more festive versions along with saffron.  Those craving a bit of tangy fruit to balance the richness of the sweet yogurt will be pleased to know that the people of Maharashtra add their native mangoes to shrikhand to produce a dessert they call amarkhand.

To be perfectly honest, much as I would love to make authentic shrikhand and amarkhand (we’re still in the thick of mango season here in the Philippines), I know too well that I have neither the patience nor all those layers of cheesecloth required for straining the stuff over a 24 – 48-hour period.  Not to worry, though; where there’s a craving, there is always a way.

I decided to add the classic flavours of shrikhand and amarkhand to one of my favourite DIY breakfasts, overnight oats.  In this particular case, however, the diet-friendly restraint of standard-issue overnight oats just won’t do.  An amarkhand-inspired bowl of creamy oats demands lushness, a certainly level of self-indulgent decadence: rich cream instead of plain milk, sweet and ripe chunks of fresh fruit, and plenty of crunchy nuts for a textural contrast.  Likewise, I didn’t have whole spices in the larder (you need whole cardamom pods or saffron strands to soak overnight in the yogurt); not to worry: I decided to amp up the spice factor with a spoonful of cookie butter with its nuances of cinnamon and ginger to do for the whole spices.

I am pleased to say that the experimentation paid off and I thoroughly enjoyed my rich, creamy, nutty breakfast with chunks of sweet mango and the subtlest hint of spice.

Amarkhand Oats

  • 1/3 cup rolled oats
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 250mL mango or peach/apricot yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted pistachios, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon cookie butter or almond butter
  • 1/4 cup cubed ripe mango
  • 1 ripe banana, sliced
  • 1/8 teaspoon almond extract or 1 teaspoon rosewater

In a small bowl, stir together the cream, yogurt, cookie butter, and almond extract until well-combined.  Carefully fold in the pistachios, oats, mango, and banana slices until well incorporated.  Cover the bowl and chill overnight; mixture will thicken considerably in the process.

Serves 1.