In Which We Talk About Kaki-Age

Kaki-age from Kenji Tei
Kaki-age from Kenji Tei

Kaki-age is a variation on the standard tempura recipe that involves shredding a number of vegetables, mostly root veg, and tossing them into a very cold, lightly seasoned batter that fries up into a shaggy-looking fritter that, if done right, is crisp all the way through.

The name is something of a misnomer because the literal translation of kaki-age is “fried oyster” (kaki = oyster; age = cooked in hot oil / fried), but I have never encountered actual oysters featured in the dish.  (I have heard about the corn and oyster kaki-age over at Ooma at the Megamall, but I’ve hadn’t had the opportunity to go there and taste for myself.)  As stated previously, it’s predominantly made with vegetables.  In the Philippines, this is usually a combination of carrots, sweet white onions, potato or sweet potato, and kabocha pumpkin.  In the case of restaurants like Kenji Tei and Teriyaki Boy, bits and bobs of prawn, squid, and crab are sometimes added to add a savory and slightly fishy twist to something whose basic flavor is essentially sweet and earthy.  There have also been spicy versions wherein the brilliantly colored and aromatically incendiary shichimi togarashi was added to the batter for a touch of heat and zing.

The average serving of kaki-age comes to the table with the standard-issue dish of tentsuyu into which one dips the fritters.  My favorite way of eating them, however, is the way it’s served at Kenji Tei: a wedge of fresh lemon comes alongside your tempura, squeeze it over the fritters evenly, and then you dip it into the tentsuyu.  This gives the sweet, earthy kaki-age a fresh, citrusy overtone that goes beautifully with the ginger and radish in the sauce.  It’s the sort of dish that calls to mind summer lunches alone and you haven’t got a care in the world.  🙂


In Which the Blogger Makes Her Own Granola…

Better than store-bought...promise!
Better than store-bought…promise!

Overnight oats have been a favourite of mine since I started making the stuff for breakfast some time ago.  There is just something comforting and satisfying about this mix of oats, yogurt, and peanut butter that is just halfway between porridge and cream-pudding.  For me, it’s happy food, comfort food; something to get the day started on a high note and the right foot.

Overnight oats are usually made with plain quick-cooking oats, but there is actually a way to spiff up your morning bowl – and that’s to make it with granola.

However, we aren’t just talking about regular, garden variety, supermarket purchased granola (or its fruitier Continental counterpart Birchermuesli).  Today, I will show you how to make your own.  Why?  Two reasons:

  1. Given the alarming number of cases of food poisoning, contamination, and the tampering of foodstuffs appearing in the news of late, it’s best that you personally know what’s going into your food.  Not to sound too paranoid, but with all those reports of oxalic acid maliciously being added to beverages and reports of faux foods being imported from China or elsewhere, you can never be too careful; and
  2. It’s always nice to have your own stock of the stuff in the pantry.  Granola also works well in cookies, after all, and you could always make granola bars to tote along for long trips out.
It's all crisp and glorious, believe me.
It’s all crisp and glorious, believe me.

The first time I made granola, I committed a serious error.  Granola calls for rolled oats: you know the sort, those big flattened whole grains.  I ended up using the quick-cooking kind (eep!), so the end results weren’t exactly the nice, grainy sort I expected.  Nevertheless, my finished product was pretty darned delicious: crisp yet chewy, the nuts toasty and crunchy; the addition of mixed dried berries adding fresh flavour and a contrasting tartness against the honey I used to sweeten the mixture.

My recipe is actually a variation on one featured in the book Martha Stewart: Cookies where it was featured as part of a recipe for something called blueberry bonanza bars.  The original recipe calls for the addition of coconut and raisins – two ingredients that don’t exactly go over well with either my family or my friends.  As a result, I gave the recipe a bit of a tweak and threw in ingredients that would be more appealing to kith and kin.  You could do pretty much the same when you make yourself a batch.  😀

One thing, though: while this granola is suitable for vegetarians in the sense that I used vegetable oil-based margarine rather than the butter called for in Martha Stewart’s original, this is not suitable for vegans because of the honey.  Other than that, bash on…

Stick it into a jar...
Stick it into a jar…

Homemade Granola

  • 4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats or quick-cooking oats
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup margarine
  • 1 cup chopped almonds
  • 1/4 cup chopped cashews
  • 2 tablespoons chia seeds
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
  • 1/4 cup sunflower kernels
  • 1/2 cup dried mixed berries or your choice of mixed dried fruit

Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees / Gas Mark 3.  Line a deep rectangular baking tin with waxed paper or baking parchment; set aside.

Combine the oats, nuts, seeds, and sunflower kernels in a large bowl; set aside.

In a saucepan over low-medium heat, warm together the honey and margarine till the margarine has all melted.  Stir well and pour into the oat mixture.  Using your hands, evenly coat all of the contents with the honey-margarine mixture.  Spread evenly in the prepared baking tin.

Bake for about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Allow to cool before breaking up into clusters.  Toss in the mixed berries.  Scoop the granola into an airtight container.

Doesn't look like much...
Doesn’t look like much…

Now that you have your granola, you would do well to keep some on hand for snack attacks.  It is, after all, healthier than most overly sugared or salted snacks.  If you’re lucky to have a fridge in your office pantry, here’s a nifty recipe that you can make when you get into the office and will be ready for noshing come your afternoon tea break.  It’s kind of like a fruity oat and yogurt pudding, rather refreshing and satisfying all at the same time.

...but it is creamy, fruity, and good.
…but it is creamy, fruity, and good.

Granola Pudding

  • 1/3 cup granola
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 small tub thick / Greek-style yogurt with fruit.

Place all of the ingredients in a mug; mix well.  Cover the mug and refrigerate for at least five to six hours.

Serves 1.


In Which There are Cream Puffs…

Choux pastry
Choux pastry

When I was about twelve and in sixth grade, I had the dubious privilege of belonging to the school Homemakers’ Club.  You know how these things are when you’re in your final year of school (in this case, elementary): you join all the clubs that you can for the equally dubious privilege of having a rather stellar roster of participation to go with your yearbook photo.  In my case, I was with the Library Club and the Glee Club.  (Oh, God; if my friend Clem reads this, I will never hear the end of it.)  I threw in the Homemakers because I wanted to learn how to cook – which, alas, at the time, probably wasn’t the best decision I could have made as cooking was something of a group activity where only the truly vicious girls who weren’t above bullying and pushing “lesser” girls away could shine.  (No, wait; scratch that: cooking was something of a contact sport for girls.  It sounds crazy, but there were threats to scald others with either boiling water or bubbling oil!)

It was only years later when I left school for good (Home Economics in grade school, high school, and university – go figure!), that I learned how to cook on my own steam, my own terms, and at my own pace.  I subscribe to Banana Yoshimoto’s sentiments regarding the culinary arts: there is only one way to learn and that is by doing everything yourself.

Which brings us to today’s post: cream puffs.

Ooh, yes...  Come to momma, babies!
Ooh, yes… Come to momma, babies!

I know people, unfortunately, who will tell me to cease and desist with regard to making cream puffs.  These people will say that, for a beginner (said with a sneer) or an amateur (with an even bigger sneer), it just won’t do; that it’s a fiddly recipe; that my attempts will all be doomed to fail.  Well, shows you what they know.

The critical thing in cream puffs is the pastry used to make them: choux pastry.  Referred to in the Larousse Gastronomique as pâte à choux, it is a distinctly dense, eggy, buttery paste that is made without leavening of any kind.  The basic principle is that the liquids in the dough will turn to steam in a very hot oven, causing the pastry to puff up into billowy shells that can be filled later on with either sweet or savoury fillings.  The ingredients for it are simple enough, basic even: flour, water, cold butter, salt, and eggs.  It does take a considerable amount of muscle power to stir in the eggs and, in doing so, build up the internal gluten structure necessary to transform a gloppy dough into a crisp-surfaced pastry shell.

Most home bakers shy away from baking cream puffs because, yes, it is a bloody fiddly recipe.  However, once you get into the swing of things and you have them down pat, baking with choux pastry becomes relatively easy to do.

A little chocolate hides the flaws!  ;)
A little chocolate hides the flaws! 😉

For those of you brave enough to take a cue from me and bake these at home, a few tips:

  • Be sure to pre-heat your oven.  If it isn’t hot enough, your puffs won’t rise.  Fire up the oven at least 15 – 20 minutes before baking;
  • Use cold butter – butter, mind you, and not margarine!  I made that mistake once; the wretched puffs went all limp soon as I took them out of the oven.  They were still edible, though;
  • Bring the water and butter mixture to a boil.  It has to be bubbling before you toss in the flour;
  • Keep your puffs small – any bigger than two tablespoons’ worth of dough and they won’t cook properly; and
  • Let the puffs cool completely before filling them.

Now that we’re clear with that, let me just say that my recipe for choux pastry is from Nigella Lawson’s How to Be a Domestic Goddess, specifically the one for her recipe “Profiteroles, My Way.”  I haven’t made any modifications to the paste, but I have not included a recipe for the filling.  Let your own preferences guide you on that score, though I can make the following suggestions:

  • Vanilla or chocolate pudding like the stuff I used for the cream puffs featured today.  I made mine from scratch, but you could also use Jell-O instant puddings or those ready-to-eat Elle et Vire puddings;
  • Lightly sweetened whipped cream with a touch of vanilla bean or lemon zest;
  • Whipped Greek yogurt with some honey swirled through it;
  • Whipped Nutella or a similar gianduia product;
  • Whipped cookie butter or peanut butter lightened with some heavy cream;
  • A vanilla creme patisserie, or one flavoured with a touch of coffee; or even
  • Chocolate mousse.
Pick up.  Apply to face.  Repeat as often as necessary...or until you run out of puffs.
Pick up. Apply to face. Repeat as often as necessary…or until you run out of puffs.

Cream Puffs

  • 200 grams all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 350 mL water
  • 150 grams (1 stick) cold butter, diced
  • Pinch of salt
  • 3 eggs
  • Your filling of choice
  • 100 grams dark chocolate
  • Olive oil

Grease a pair of lipped baking sheets.  Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees / Gas Mark 6.

Place the water, diced butter, and salt into a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat.  Stir until the butter has melted and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat and stir in the flour; work vigorously until a dough that easily pulls away from the sides of the pan is formed.  Remove from the heat and add the eggs one by one, mixing well after each addition until a smooth-surfaced, slightly glossy dough is achieved.

Spoon out the dough in 2-tablespoon portions onto the greased baking sheets, making sure to space them evenly.  (For smaller puffs, 1 tablespoon of dough will do.)  Bake for 15 – 20 minutes until lightly browned on top and inflated.  Remove from oven and set on a wire rack to cool; pierce each puff with a toothpick to let out steam lest this turns them soggy.  Allow to cool completely before stuffing with the filling of your choice.  You make choose to pipe in the fillings or split the puffs and spoon it in.  Arrange the filled puffs onto a serving dish.

Melt the chocolate in a microwave around 45 seconds at HIGH.  Stir in about a tablespoon of the olive oil to make the texture fluid enough to drizzle over.  Drizzle the chocolate over the puffs.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Makes approximately 25 puffs.

Incidentally…  Not in the mood for cream puffs?  Heat up a saucepan of oil for deep-frying and turn the dough into churros!  Pipe the dough through a star-shaped nozzle right into the hot oil.  Fish out and drain well on a rack or on paper towels.  Dust up with some icing sugar and serve with thick, Spanish-style hot chocolate.

In Which French Bread Shines On as French Toast…

French toast is always a pleasure.
French toast is always a pleasure.

French toast  – pain perdu or “lost bread” – is one of those “love food / hate waste” ideas that has stood the test of time.  A way of upcycling stale bread, it has become a popular breakfast or afternoon tea item around the globe.

It is one of the first things that many home cooks learn to prepare as it is also the easiest.  Crack an egg into a bowl; whisk well with some milk and sugar.  Soak in a few stale slices of bread.  Heat up some butter in a frying pan and cook the soaked slices till browned on all sides.

Making French toast is my second favourite way of dealing with leftover bread.  (Longtime readers know that my actual fave involves transforming stale bread – and cake – into a rich, killer-diller bread pudding that goes down a treat with vanilla ice cream.)  The eggy bread method is best for breads made with lean dough, which is to say that the bread was made with little to no fat, as these soak up the whisked custard beautifully and the resulting texture is crisp outside and fluffy within.  That said, you can’t go wrong with an old-school baguette or slices of crusty pain ancienne or pain de campagne.  

I don’t like my French toast too sweet, so I use a bare amount of sugar in my recipe.  Likewise, I also like to liven things up by adding lemon extract or lemon zest to my toast as it gives the finished product a citrusy zing that is just lovely on the palate.

Serve with jam, marmalade, peanut butter,...
Serve with jam, marmalade, peanut butter,…

Pain Perdu au Citron

  • 8 slices from a baguette or pain ancienne (I get my pain ancienne from Paul Boulangerie.  The French-style loaves over at Wildflour and Tous de Jours are also excellent.)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon granulated white sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract or finely grated fresh lemon zest
  • butter for frying

Whisk together the egg, milk, and lemon extract.  Soak the sliced bread, making sure that all sides are properly battered.  Set aside.

Put a frying pan over medium heat.  Add the butter and swirl it around the pan as it melts to evenly grease the surface.  Once the butter starts to brown at the edges (you want a beurre noisette thing going on here), add the soaked bread.  Cook until browned on both sides; remove to a serving plate and serve immediately with your choice of spreads or syrups.

Serves 4.

In Which There is a Classic Spanish Stew…

Tuhod y Batoc...
Tuhod y Batoc…

Outside my office window, the wind is blowing hard; down below, trees are swaying wildly.  The sky is steel-grey and there is a scent of rain in the air.  Times like these are, literally, not salad days.  This is the sort of weather that calls for more substantial fare: thick or chunky soups; pots of steaming hot rice; massive roasts; and, of course, there is always the possibility of a rich stew simmering for hours on the hob.  Times like these are the perfect time for a little Spanish specialty known as tujod [tuhod] y batoc.

The dish gets its name from the cuts of beef used to make it: usually the kneecap (tuhod in Spanish/Tagalog) or shin and neck (batoc in Spanish/Tagalog).  The beef is stewed for hours in broth that gets thickened by all the cartilage; its richness is tempered with a splash of wine, brightened by the addition of peppers, and made considerably substantial by the addition of carrots, potatoes, and mushrooms.

It is said that the most iconic rendition of the dish is the one served at Alba Restaurante Espanol where it is cooked with rice to make a dish that pretty much straddles the line between a more fluid-textured Italian risotto and the drier Spanish paella.  A reasonable facsimile thereof is served at other Castilian establishments, each with its own twist on the dish.  But my favourite version is the one served at Dulcinea.

...con arroz, por favor!
…con arroz, por favor!

While Dulcinea is more popularly known as a pasteleria y salon de the (a pastry and tea shop) whose most popular dish happens to be plate upon plate of decadently crunchy churros dipped in rich Spanish chocolate, it also offers a variety of Spanish viands for those hankering for a hefty meal.

Dulcinea’s tuhod y batoc easily serves two and has this delectably unctuous sauce that demands to be splodged over cups of hot rice.  The beef is toothsomely tender, flavourful; the vegetables tossed into the stew are surprisingly fresh, the sliced peppers still crunchy with a sharp, almost citrusy taste.  It is, in my opinion, just the thing to eat with a friend when the weather outside is grey and inclement and you want a taste of comfort to tide you through a cold afternoon.