Posted in Foodies 'Round the World, Midge on the Road, The Well-read Foodie

What Does it Mean to Write About Food?

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How we feast at home

In American food writer Amanda Hesser‘s book Cooking for Mr Latte, there is a chapter where Amanda finds herself acting as tour guide for a guest from India. In the course of a city tour of the Big Apple, the guest asks her what she does for a living. This prompts the following conversation:

“So what is it that you do?”

“I work for a newspaper,” I said. “And I write about food.”

“You write about food?” he said with another little laugh. “What does it mean to write about food?”

What does it mean to write about food? I ask myself this question every time I’m out on assignment for the magazine I’ve been working for close on two years now. I ask myself this question every time I cook or bake something and post about it on social media. I ask myself this question every time I work with food or interview chefs and other food-and-beverage professionals.

There is no clear-cut or cut-and-dried answer, to be honest, because it all depends on the writer. In my case, writing about food is all about sharing. In this context, it’s about sharing food even virtually. It is about sharing the experience with others who could not be with you physically to enjoy it. You could also say that it is about sharing information: the very basic “who, what, where, when, and how” of an event or a specific location.

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Yep, in the course of my work, I actually met Matt Moran! (Singapore, 12 October 2017)

Sharing in the context of food writing also involves both teaching and learning; it is a two-way street for both the writer and the reader. In my case, whenever I post recipes, I get to share something new with others: something they can try for themselves in their own kitchens. In return, when I read the recipes and recipe-notes of others, I am encouraged to try something new and, once I’ve become comfortable making that recipe, to put my own spin on it.

Writing about food also means sharing your impressions about food, cooking, and the people behind processes and institutions. Over the course of nearly two years, I have had the honour and privilege of meeting and interviewing culinary masters, brave young bucks, and those whose opinions are helping change the way the world eats and drinks. Having done so has changed the way I look at these food and bev icons: I have seen a different side of them, a more human side, so to speak. In the process of speaking to them, I have picked up lessons – not just about food, but about life itself and how to live it to the fullest. (Thank you, Oz Clarke, for those insights about maturity that came out while we were discussing the merits of aged Champagne against more youthful bubblies!) This side of food writing has also enabled me to learn more about myself and how I have changed over time.

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Pistachio and apricot white choc bark, anyone?

It has been nearly thirteen years since I started food writing by way of this blog. When I first wrote about food in early 2005, it was a way for me to destress at a time when my life was all odds and ends. Writing about food was my way of feeding my heart and soul at a time when the former was broken and the latter felt empty. It was my way of coping with life, I guess.

For over a decade, I have chronicled my attempts at baking bread from Nigella Lawson‘s How to be a Domestic Goddess, how I taught myself how to make chocolate confections, how I ended up injuring myself or nearly ruining the stove and oven in the process of cooking. I look back on old entries in this blog and smile to myself, seeing how far I’ve come on my personal culinary journey.

Considering how I actually flunked home economics in grade school, high school, and college, I never really imagined I would actually end up with a career writing about food – but here I am. I love food. I love working with food and the people who work with food. And, yes: I love writing about food.

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A gold (butter) star, for all you lovely readers out there!

In October of last year, while on assignment covering Singapore Airlines’ World Gourmet Forum, I met a number of fellow food writers – bloggers and journos, alike – and actually made friends thanks to a commonality of interests. And I had to wonder: how did we all end up in this particular profession.

The day I was slated to fly back to Manila, a fellow magazine person caught up with me at breakfast and we ended up talking about life…and how we found ourselves writing about food for a living. And we figured out that the powers that be noticed how we loved food and travel and wine and words – hence our current assignments. While we’ve both flown back to our respective countries (he’s Indonesian, by the way), we’ve kept in touch. We share food photos and point out potential, newsworthy events in each other’s neighbourhoods. I tell you: it’s nice to have someone who shares interests and a profession with you. (We’re also certified geeks, but that’s a story for another day.)

Indeed, it got to a point that, over the course of one conversation, I was prompted to say, “Don’t you just love the fact that, as food and lifestyle journos, we have one of the coolest jobs in the world?”

And his reply pretty much sums up everything we both love about our jobs and food writing in general: “I know, right! Great people, great food, great places.” And everything – seriously everything – an experience to be savoured and remembered.

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Posted in Foodies 'Round the World, Sweets for the Sweet, The Flavors of Asia, The Grocery Shop-a-holic, The Wonders of Japanese Cuisine

In Which a Flurry of Green Tea Treats Lands on the Blogger’s Desk…

Green tea and gorgeous
Green tea is a gorgeous flavor

Some colleagues recently flew over to Japan, ostensibly to enjoy the fleeting, ephemeral beauty of sakura [cherry blossom] viewing season.  (Lucky ducks!)  As a result, I found myself accepting bits and bobs of omiyage (homecoming presents/souvenirs) from their trip to the Land of the Rising Sun – and all of them featured matcha (powdered green tea) as the main flavoring.

By now, you’re all aware that matcha is the finely pulverized green tea used for making green tea lattes and green milk tea drinks; it’s also used to flavor a number of sweet treats from mochi and daifuku (stuffed mochi) to castella (Portuguese-style sponge cake) to French macarons.  Its rather bittersweet and nutty, almost almond-like flavor has made it popular even among those who would rather have something much sweeter as its flavor profile is close enough to that of either coffee or dark chocolate.

The Japanese have gone the extra mile and have added it to everything from traditional sweets to KitKat bars – and, in KitKats, they shine: the bitter-almond flavor keeps the white chocolate coating from tasting too sweet and balances the vanilla tones in the crunchy wafer.

Oreo cakesters, soft-batch cookies, AND a blossomy version of green-tea KitKats...
Oreo cakesters, soft-batch cookies, AND a blossomy version of green-tea KitKats…

It’s one of my favorite flavors, so you can just imagine how happy I was to see the following items on my desk:

  • Oreo Soft Cookie (sold as Oreo Cakesters in the West) in Matcha Milk This was very much like a miniature dark chocolate whoopie pie filled with a nutty, creamy matcha latte creme that threw the dusky flavor of the chocolate into high profile.  It’s wonderful for people like myself who love good, strong, flavors that are more bitter than sweet.  However, this Oreo variant isn’t for everyone, I think: a junior colleague took one bite, turned greener than the matcha filling, and tossed it into the trash without bothering to offer the leftover cake to any of the rest of us; we stared at this act of wanton wastefulness and ingratitude in sheer horror, the wasteful little gastronomical Philistine!
  • American Soft matcha chocolate-chunk cookie with macadamia nuts – While the cookie itself was a wonted green from the matcha in the dough, the flavor of the tea was overpowered by the chocolate and vanilla.
  • Limited Edition [Spring Only] Sakura Matcha KitKat – Now this was lovely: the matcha was balanced out by the cherry-vanilla notes of the sakura extract used to flavor the wafer, so the resulting bittersweetness also had an appealing bit of fruit and blossom to it.  Definitely something to savor slowly together with an iced matcha latte.

It was, to be perfectly honest, like having a little bit of Japan in the heart of the tropics.  🙂

Posted in Drinkables, Foodies 'Round the World, Liquid Refreshment, Sweets for the Sweet

In Which a Gift of Chocolate Gives the Blogger Ideas…

Easy-peasy: you stick this into a mug of hot milk and melt it down...
Easy-peasy: you stick this into a mug of hot milk and melt it down…

On the last day of work before Christmas, a colleague flew back from a short trip to Europe and began handing out sweet little presents to all the rest of us: blocks of chocolate stuck onto the ends of what appeared to be wooden spoons.

These are HotChoc Spoons from the Dutch firm Chocolate Company.  Referred to on the website as “a solid piece of happiness on a spoon,” the basic premise regarding these sweets is to use them to stir a mug of hot milk.  As one stirs, the heat of the milk melts the chocolate and mixes it into the milk for a proper sort of hot chocolate – quite appropriate for the cold, rainy nights we’ve been having in this part of the world, yes?  (Even better for those places that have been snowed under; I can only imagine how heavenly a mug of hot chocolate would be on a freezing night…)

While some of my officemates got such variants as triple chocolate, tiramisu, and 50% Dark, I was lucky enough to receive the one you see on top of this post.  The latte macchiato spoon is a collaboration between Chocolate Company and Maison Blanche Dael, one of the oldest and most respected coffee brewers in the Netherlands.  This particular chocolate-spoon consists of three layers of white, milk, and dark chocolate flavored with an exceptionally good, dark-roasted Arabica coffee.  The resulting chocolate is the most insanely delicious version of caffe mocha you will ever have in your life: smooth, just sweet and just bitter enough, and just enough caffeine to keep you awake to enjoy the mug.

I have seen similar products made and sold locally: Heavenly Chocolates has their Belgian hot chocolate cubes and Slice over at the Bonifacio Global City has its own spin on HotChoc Spoons.  But, seriously: I am thinking of doing my own version.  I was thinking of flavoring these sweet chocolate cubes with spices, nut extracts, and any number of flavored vodkas and liqueurs!  Just imagine how lovely lavender or rose choc-spoons would taste, or a cinnamon-allspice blend, perhaps dark chocolate with a shot of pimenton dulce or white with a shot of ginger and lemongrass…  Oh, the possibilities…

Posted in Foodies 'Round the World, Home Cooking, The Flavors of Asia, The Well-read Foodie

In Which the Blogger Tries Her Hand at Cooking Bulgogi – from Scratch…

Straight out of the pages of “Jamie Magazine” from October of last year…

Regular readers of this blog know this: I’ve been collecting (actually hoarding) British and Aussie food magazines for a little over a year now.

It’s something of a habit now; whenever I’m over at my local Booksale – or at any branch of that particular chain, for that matter – I find myself rummaging through the magazine bins for such gems as BBC Good Food, Delicious – UK and its Australian counterpart, Donna HayTaste Britain, and my most recent find – Jamie Oliver‘s eponymously titled magazine Jamie.  

The thing about Jamie is the fact that its articles are written with the same quirky, fun, yet totally informative touch that so characterizes Mr. Oliver himself.  The October issue, in particular, glorifies British food – and how that once uber-maligned cuisine is now getting a serious overhaul that places due importance on local produce used in season, classic flavors, regional specialties, as well as increased socio-economic awareness on the state of local agriculture.  (The cover recipe – a veal-stuffed version of shepherd’s pie – comes with a plea to support British dairy farmers who make a loss whenever male calves are born.)

But, given the title of this post, you may find yourself scratching your head and asking, “So what does Brit food have to do with Korean bulgogi?!”  Well, the recipe I used was actually in a feature on the bulgogi steak baguettes sold near the Arsenal Stadium over in North London.  😀

The original bulgogi baguettes were the brainchild of journalist Daniel Rule and his partner, Nobu Park Lane’s pastry sous-chef Shin Ji-Sun.  Originally created to give standard English stadium fare (hot dogs and the brilliant orange-colored and horrendously incendiary chicken Balti pie) a run for its money, the Korean-inspired steak sarnie stall has become one of the most recommended snack stalls in the area – and possibly in all of North London – whenever match-day rolls around.  Both footie fans and curious tourists have fallen hard for the sweet and meaty treats involving sweet-marinated beef in soft baguettes and topped with a curiously tasty mix of mayonnaise and teriyaki sauce and Chef Shin was sweet enough to share her recipe with the folks over at Jamie.

Chef Shin’s recipe involves three kinds of fruit (kiwifruit, pear, and half an apple), white pepper, and a splash of English ale (Marston’s Pedigree Pale, to be exact) instead of Korean soju or Japanese mirin.  However, I found myself without either kiwifruit or beer (as well as any form of Oriental spirit) of any sort when I decided to make this for dinner over the weekend.  What I did have were a whole apple and a lot of rum.  (It’s been too hot to make truffles, so I’ve pretty much left the bottle of dark rum alone for much of the season.)  Plus, I’ve always found white pepper rather insipid and boring – so I went with the black and things pretty much started rolling from there.

Beef bulgogi on the left; a pile of dak [chicken] bulgogi on the right

This particular marinade is rather fiddly at first, but once you’ve started soaking the meat, you can just cover, chuck it in the fridge, and leave it be till you’re ready to cook; it seriously involves leaving the meat to soak for a whole 24 hours in the fridge (or, better yet, the chiller section of the fridge).

The malic acid in the apple and pear help tenderize the meat along with the alcohol, so you don’t need to pound it to death before marinating.  You don’t need to add salt because of the soy sauce involved and you needn’t add any more oil to the pan when you cook it because the sesame oil and the natural marbling of the meat add enough fat to keep it from becoming dry and stringy.

Incidentally, it’s a fairly versatile sort of marinade as you can use it with beef, chicken fillets (for what they call dak bulgogi in Korean restaurants), pork cutlets, thinly sliced lamb loin, and I daresay that it may work just as well for such game as venison, boar, and ostrich.  Be sure to serve it with lots of good, steamed white rice, kimchi, and other sorts of banchan (Korean sides; I recommend chilled sesame spinach and beansprouts) for a really great dinner with the family.

Bulgogi

  • 1 apple, peeled, cored, and diced
  • 1 pear, peeled, cored, and diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2 onions, 1 coarsely chopped and the other finely chopped
  • 100 grams white granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 50mL soy sauce
  • 50mL dark sesame oil
  • 2 spring onions, finely chopped + additional 3 spring onions, finely chopped, to serve
  • 50mL dark rum or pale pilsen beer
  • 50mL still lemonade or lemon-lime soda
  • 25mL water
  • 1-1/4 kilo sukiyaki-cut beef or pork or chicken fillets (breast or thigh), cut into strips

Put the chopped fruit, coarsely chopped onion, and the garlic into a food processor and blitz into a grainy puree.  Stir in the sugar, pepper, soy sauce, and oil and mix well.  Add the water, rum, lemonade, finely chopped onion, and the two chopped spring onions and stir well.  Add the sliced meat, making sure to massage the marinade well into it.  Transfer to a covered container and store in the refrigerator; you may also choose to freeze it.  Leave to marinate for at least 24 hours.

Heat up a large, non-stick frying pan and set over medium-high heat.  Cook the meat strips for 5 minutes or until well-done.  Transfer to a serving platter and sprinkle with the three chopped spring onions.  Serve immediately.

Serves 8.

Variations…  You may choose to do what I did in the picture above and use half-beef and half-chicken to make a bulgogi duo platter.  If you want to add more heat to your meal, swap the ground black pepper for an equal amount of dried chili flakes.

As for the leftovers, dak bulgogi – the chicken – works beautifully when added to instant noodle soups; it gives them a lot of oomph and meaty interest.  Leftover beef, on the other hand, can be used to approximate those Arsenal Stadium sandwiches – in which case, teriyaki sauce, mayo, and soft baguettes (or, what the heck, hot dog buns) are a must.  ;D

Posted in Foodies 'Round the World, The Grocery Shop-a-holic, The Joy of Snacks

In Which a Classic Soup is Baked into a Savory Pie…

Flaky puff pastry on the outside...

“Ye blogged about pie yesterday an’ now ye’re bloggin’ about pie again?  Och, what’s up wi’ the pies, woman?!”

So exclaimed “evil twin” Floyd when I told him that today’s post was going to be about a savory pie I tried at the Salcedo Market last Saturday.

“Yes, I’m blogging about pie again,” I replied when I went online.  “It’s a different pie, though.”

How different?”

“Well, this one was filled with clam chowder.”

Clam chowder?!

I can’t blame Floyd for typing in an aghast, agitated manner.  He’s Scots, after all; he’s used to Scotch pies made with peppery stewed mutton and eaten out of hand with a mug of beefy Bovril on a snowy day.  A cold-weather dinner would be a robust steak-and-kidney (or steak-and-onion or – better yet – steak-and-mushroom) pie with mashed potatoes and mushy peas on the side.  Fish pie, however, is a mashed potato-topped casserole of seafood cooked in a creamy veloute – he has yet to have anything involving stewed seafood served in a pastry crust.

This is why he pretty much raised an eyebrow at this clam chowder baby pie from Simply Pie.

Chock-full of beautifully saucy clams...

A flaky, buttery puff-pastry shell is filled with rich, creamy, and utterly savory clam chowder – and the chowder, thank goodness, is not some brothy stuff with just the faintest whisper of clam flavor.  Each pie is chock-filled with real clams and chunks of potato that add body to the filling.

Appearances are certainly deceiving in this case.  The pies are rather small, so one would think that it would take more than one to make a proper light lunch.  However, each of these little treats is on the hefty side and is absolutely satisfying.  I regret, however, that I bought just one pie – it was so utterly delicious, delicate yet savory all at the same time!

 The brainchild of young entrepreneur Gail Ang, Simply Pie also offers miniature quiches (the Greek-inspired spinach, feta, and sun-dried tomato quiche is a perfect treat-on-the-go if you’re craving spanakopita on the run), miniature sweet pies (of which the nata-lychee is reportedly a bestseller), and little chicken-Dijon pies that are utterly scrumptious.

Simply Pie makes the rounds of the weekend markets (notably the Salcedo Market and Mercato Centrale at the Bonifacio Global City) and the company is also online and on Facebook.

I sincerely hope it’ll be at the Salcedo again when I head back on the 29th; I need to get a box of those clam chowder pies!

As for Floyd, he took just one look at the snapshots of the clam chowder pie and said, “That does it; the Missus an’ I are headin’ o’er to yer side o’ the world – travel warnin’s bedamned!”

Ah, pie envy…  Definitely nothing like it…  😉