In Which There is a Pizza for a Weeknight Dinner…

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The “Before” Shot

I don’t work full-time anymore.  These days, I work as a consultant for the corporate governance advocacy I was working full-time for about a month ago.  It’s a healthier set-up, really: I don’t have to weather through the increasingly chaotic traffic of the Greater Manila Area five days a week and I don’t have to be cooped up in an office for the greater part of my day.

It is a schedule that has improved my health: I sleep better now and I am able to keep my stress down to a tolerable level.  Also: it’s given me more time to work on my poetry, the novel that has remained stalled for weeks, as well as cooking and baking.

The last one has led to a greater amount of experimentation in the kitchen: not just for special occasions or weekend dinners, but for weekday meals, as well.  And so, this pizza…

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The “After” Shot

The crust for this is different from the schiacciata base I normally make from Nigella Lawson’s How to be a Domestic Goddess recipe which calls for baking the pizza at a high temperature first, then lowering the temp for the last two thirds of cooking.  This recipe is a much simpler one from Penny Stephens‘s What’s Cooking: Italian.  Less flour is involved and you only need to cook it at a constant, middling temperature.  The resulting crust is pleasantly crispy at the edges, deliciously fluffy and chewy within.

The topping I used features two ingredients with a smoky flavor profile: tinapang bangus (hot-smoked milkfish) and char-grilled eggplant.  The meaty smoked milkfish acts as a foil to the sharp yet sweet tomato sauce I used as a base and the eggplant adds a welcome, somewhat bittersweet nuance that was quite satisfying.

I also added olives for a salty zing and capers because they go so well with fish.  You can skip the capers, if you like.  But please keep them in; I insist: they make this already interesting dish more appealing.

This makes for a light but satisfying meal, particularly if served with a good soup (from scratch, mind you; the additional effort is worth it) or a crisp, fresh salad.

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Serve with a good soup made from scratch

Tinapizza

For the Crust:

  • 350 grams all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 250mL water
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 packet (7g) instant/fast-acting yeast

For the Topping:

  • 1/2 cup cooked and flaked tinapang bangus or any hot-smoked fish
  • 1 medium-sized Asian eggplant, peeled
  • 1 cup tomato sauce
  • 1 red onion, sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1/2 a chicken or fish bouillon cube
  • 2 tablespoons Italian seasoning or 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil and oregano
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 cup sliced olives
  • 2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained (optional)
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup additional grated cheese (mild Cheddar or mozzarella)
  • 2 tablespoons water

Heat the water and 1 tablespoon olive oil on HIGH in the microwave for about 45 seconds.  Combine the flour, sugar, salt, and yeast in a large mixing bowl.  Make a well in the center and pour in the water and oil.  Mix well.  Dust your hands with flour and knead the dough for 10 – 12 minutes until it forms a smooth ball, dusting with more flour from time to time.  Cover with a clean dishtowel and leave to rise in a warm, draft-free place for an hour.

Grease a lipped cookie sheet; set aside.

Grill the eggplant or cook in a large, ungreased frying pan until charred, blistered, and tender all over.  Allow to cool for a few minutes, then chop coarsely.

Heat two tablespoons olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat.  Saute the sliced onion until softened.  Add the garlic and cook until the garlic has browned a little at the edges.  Add the herbs and cook till fragrant.  Add the bouillon, cook till it has dissolved, then add the eggplant and tomato sauce.  Thin the sauce a little with the water and bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer and cook for about ten minutes; add the brown sugar and stir until it has dissolved.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool for fifteen minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees / Gas Mark 6.

Punch down the risen dough and press into the prepared cookie sheet.  Cover and leave to rest for ten to fifteen minutes.  Uncover the dough and evenly spread over the sauce.  Evenly scatter over the smoked fish, olives, and – if using – capers.  Evenly scatter over the cheeses.

Bake for 20 minutes.  Turn the oven off at the end of baking time but leave the pizza inside for an additional ten minutes.  Remove from oven and slice into sticks.

Serves 8.

In Which One Encounters the Nicest Bánh Mì

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Take a bite…  It’s all right…

Bánh mì is actually something of an ambiguous culinary term.  In Vietnamese, it just means “bread” – as in any kind of bread, but most likely the baguette-like buns introduced by the French when they held sway in Indochina.  However, thanks to the Vietnamese diaspora scattered throughout the world, a bánh mì is known to be a small baguette sandwich loaded with everything from rustic liver pate to bits and bobs of unique Vietnamese charcuterie even to such oddities as chicken and pork floss.

I’ve had bánh mì in a number of local Vietnamese restaurants but, by far, the most authentic – and possibly the tastiest – has to be the Traditional bánh mì from Bon Banhmi.

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As you can see, it’s loaded.

This sandwich stand started out with a single shop in San Antonio Village, the heart of Makati’s foodie hipster zone.  It has since branched out and has outlets throughout the Makati area.  The one closest to me is actually on the twelfth floor of the GT Tower along Ayala Avenue but it offers virtually everything from the original – including a real Vietnamese sandwich mistress running the stall.

Whatever sarnie you choose, though, you can expect it to be good; excellent as a matter of fact.  Craving beef?  They have one with grilled beef.  Pork?  Take your pick: roasted with crackling skin on, meatballs, or barbecued.  Chicken fans can have one filled with shreds of chicken floss and veg-heads can have a baguette loaded with crisp greens, crunchy fresh cukes, pickles, and cilantro sprigs.

But take it from me: what you want – and what you will eventually crave for – is the traditional.  This is Bon Banhmi’s version of the bánh mì dac biet or bánh mì huynh hoa: a baguette stuffed with three kinds of Vietnamese ham or sausage plus pickles, salad greens, and dressing.  The meaty triumvirate featured here has cha lua (pork headcheese), cha gio heo (a pork sausage similar to Italian salami or mortadella), and cha thu (red-rinded pork shank ham); and this is aside from the generous schmear of Vietnamese liver pate and a rich, creamy homemade mayonnaise that tastes absolutely lush and buttery.  A scoop of daikon and carrot pickles helps cut the porky richness while fresh cucumber and cilantro add crunch and zing.

It really is one of the best sandwiches you’ll ever eat: the bread is crispy from start to finish, keeping its crusty integrity despite the creamy pate and mayo as well as the juices from the pickles and the spicy dressing.  Every bite melds together into a refreshingly savory whole and the chef doesn’t skimp on any of the ingredients.  Truth be told, it isn’t a bad deal for P 99.00 for a medium or, better yet, P 119.00 for the large.  (Get the large; you won’t regret it.)

Grab an iced coffee and settle down for a meal that wouldn’t be out of place in the streets of Saigon.

In Which One Gussies Up Her Toast…

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Not quite Shibuya Toast, but every bit as good…possibly better

Shibuya Toast is a dessert commonly found in Japanese or Korean cafe franchises.  It is, in essence, what it is: toast slathered with sweet toppings.  However, the toast in question is definitely not the same toast you scarf down for breakfast.  Au contraire, what these establishments do is grab a hunk of bread – say a quarter of an unsliced loaf – chuck it into the oven to crisp up, then load it up with syrups and conserves and goodness knows what else.

For this reason, I’ve never been inclined to order it.  For all that I’m for decadent desserts, turning your toast into a groaning behemoth of massive, sugary proportions is just overkill.

For the same reason, I prefer a little more constraint to my dessert toast.  I don’t want a hunk of bread; a somewhat thicker-cut sandwich slice works enough for me.  I don’t need all the bells and whistles of Nutella, matcha syrup, chocolate ganache, and gobs of sweetened adzuki bean.

Truth be told, all I need is a generous schmear of good peanut butter thickly slathered over the bread and a drizzle of wild honey.  Five minutes in the toaster gives the peanut butter a richer flavor and renders the honey crisp like thin, wispy shards of properly made caramel.  I finish it off with a scoop of plain, honest-to-goodness vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of more honey.  Easier to eat, no need to share; a divinely decadent dessert for one given elegant restraint.