Feasting on Duck by a Country Road


In a small shack by the roadside…

“Are you folks going out today?” I yawned to my dad on the morning of Black Saturday. See, we’re the sort of family that stays home during Holy Week: no trips to the beach, active participation during the religious services of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, bantering with each other over the points made by the Dominican friars during the annual broadcast of The Seven Last Words live from the Santo Domingo Church in Quezon City, and I do my Easter baking on Black Saturday. So, we’re pretty much city-bound (and local community-bound) during Paschaltide.

So it came as a surprise when my father said, “How about duck in Laguna for lunch?”


Poached and fried till golden…beak and all

Duck is a meat that rarely makes an appearance on most Filipino tables unless you live in Pateros in the northern part of Manila or in the town of Victoria in the southern province of Laguna. For both places, ducks and duck eggs are both a source of nourishment and a long-standing source of income. Balut, that infamous duck embryo delicacy foisted on unsuspecting foreign tourists and squeamish Fil-Am kids, has long been Pateros’ claim to fame; in Victoria, there are roadside stalls that sell live or dressed ducks, as well as balutpenoy (hard-boiled duck eggs), as well as both salt-cured and fresh duck eggs. In the case of the latter, it’s all part of the “One Town, One Product” (OTOP) initiative of the Department of Trade and Industry which encourages self-reliance in rural areas by encouraging MSMEs.

At long-time duck farmer Leo Dator’s humorously named Ang Tindahan ng Itlog ni Kuya (aka Mr Duck), duck lovers can indulge in a menu where duck meat and eggs are everywhere. Seriously: you can get a meal that’s ducky in every way from soup to dessert. Other than that, one can also get organically farmed ducks, duck eggs (fresh and preserved), and other niceties such as those au courant salted-egg potato crisps (made with their own eggs, natch), locally-made noodles, and other snacks native to Laguna province.

The speciality of the house, however, is kinulob na itik. Similar to Indonesian bebek goreng (crisply fried duck), the organically raised duck is first poached to take some of the gaminess off, and then deep-fried till crisp on the outside, tender and savoury within. Richer and more flavourful than the fast-food fried chicken so many Filipinos are fond of (and, really: I can’t see why), a single order is good enough for a group of four – with leftovers, to boot.


Sinampalukang Itik – look at all those chilies!

Another must-try dish is the sinampalukang itik or duck cooked sinigang-style in a sour tamarind broth with finely chopped shallots and plenty of fresh finger chilies. It’s quite a change from the usual sinigang: meatier, more robust, somewhat fiery because of the chilies chucked into the pot. It’s a dish that seriously demands to be eaten with plenty of rice – and the rice here is excellent. It may be plain, but it’s deliciously fragrant and the grains are moreishly chewy; it is certainly the perfect foil for the fatty goodness of the duck.

One does NOT say no to this sort of leche flan

There’s halo-halo on the menu for afters, but I would recommend you go out with the same thing you came in with and have a ducky end to the meal with the leche flanThe local take on this sweet favourite comes out denser, heavier, and creamier than the pale yellow examples you get in other parts of the country. Here, as duck yolks are used, the custard is a deeper orange hue and the resulting dish has a chewy, gooey texture that is seriously appealing even to the finickiest of diners. (But, if even this puts you off, you’ve no business eating.)

The tindahan is actually split into two parts: the main restaurant which is a roofed structure open on all sides with tables for dining on, a counter for ordering from, and a kitchen where the magic happens. The other part is the store which sells all things ducky (yes, including live Long Island Pekin ducks – fat and rather charming-tempered ones, really. You’d want to keep one as a pet, but you’d also consider cooking the creature come Christmas this year, so…)

Duck-egg Challah, anyone?

I ended up buying a clutch of fresh duck eggs and a whole kinulob to take away. Duck eggs are an amazing addition to one’s baking arsenal, if I do say so myself. They impart a richer flavour to eggy breads like classic Jewish challah, for one thing. I’ve yet to see what duck eggs can do in cakes or biscuits, but I’ve seen recipes for duck egg pavlovas (whites in the pav, yolks in the custard to pour over it) and as we’re at the start of mango season in these parts…

Oh, and remember that I bought a whole duck for take away: we had that bird for Black Saturday dinner and, yes, there were leftovers. Those definitely didn’t go to waste, of course, because…

Duck curry, yes.

…I went and chucked the lot into a tasty duck curry for Easter Sunday dinner. 🙂

In Which One Bakes a Proper Red Velvet Cake…


In the tin

Red velvet cake is something of a pseudo-tradition in my family because my sister always asks for something similar to it for her birthday.

The first time she asked for one resulted in a deep purple dessert dubbed the Sky at Dusk because it was the color of a night sky and decorated with stars cut out of cake trimmings on top of a lemon cheesecake frosting.  This would eventually be followed by the much-darker imperial velvet cake and other similar treats.

And finally, this: a real red velvet cake.


Ready to serve

And not just any red velvet cake, mind you: this monster is a chocolate red velvet cake.

The average red velvet cake is, pretty much, a butter cake loaded with red food coloring.  However, the original red velvet is a cocoa-flavored butter cake that took its characteristic maroon hue from the chemical reaction between acidic buttermilk and the more alkaline cocoa powder.  Unfortunately, many modern red velvet cake recipes add just a smidgen (two tablespoons or less) of cocoa and load up on food coloring; not cool, if you ask me.

Mine is adapted from the one from the Hershey’s Kitchen – but has the added advantage of a quarter-cup of chocolate chips tossed into the deep red batter before baking.  Thus, this one has ample chocolate flavor and is considerably richer and more satisfying than the red velvet cake you’d pick up from some commercial bakery.  Add the fact that the icing on this particular cake is a caramel cream cheese frosting, it was a cake that definitely put a smile on my sister’s face on her special day.

And, believe me when I say this is guaranteed to make you smile, too.


Sheer and absolute delight in every bite

Chocolate Red Velvet Cake

For the Cake:

  • 1/2 cup vanilla-flavored margarine or soft unsalted butter
  • 1-1/2 cups granulated white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoons red food coloring
  • 1/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup buttermilk or 1 tablespoon vinegar + enough milk to yield 1 cup total liquid
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda

For the Frosting:

  • 1 bar (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup caramel-flavored margarine or soft unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup icing or confectioner’s sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees / Gas Mark 4.

Grease and flour a standard-sized regular Bundt or fluted Bundt pan.

Cream together the vanilla margarine and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs, cocoa powder, and vanilla; mix well.  Sift together the flour, salt, and baking soda.  Tip half the flour mixture into the cocoa mixture.  Mix well and pour in half the buttermilk; mix until well combined.  Tip in the rest of the flour mixture and blend well with the rest of the buttermilk until a smooth batter is achieved.  Stir in the food coloring and mix until well-incorporated.  Fold in the chocolate chips.

Pour into the prepared cake pan and bake 55 minutes.

While the cake is baking, make the frosting.  Using a hand-held mixture at medium speed, whip together all the ingredients until soft peaks form.  Chill for at least 15 minutes.

Remove the baked cake from the pan and set onto a serving plate, reserving any crumbs.  Allow to cool completely before frosting.  Top the frosted cake with any reserved crumbs.

Serves 12…just.  😉



In Which There is a Pizza for a Weeknight Dinner…


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…


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.


Serve with a good soup made from scratch


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 We Have a Sweet Taste of Autumn…

Almond Crumble Apple Pie...and pistachio ice cream!

Almond Crumble Apple Pie…and pistachio ice cream!

I live in the tropics, so this means we only have two seasons: blisteringly hot and dry and torrentially wet.  As we are currently in the throes of an El Nino, the weather continues unusually hot despite the fact that we are nearly halfway through November.  Nevertheless, in my book at the very least, it wouldn’t be the run-up to Christmas without me baking at least one apple pie.

I featured my personal recipe for apple pie six years ago and it is a recipe that has stood the test of time and remains a firm favourite among family and friends.  It has evolved over the years and its 2015 iteration is the most interesting it has ever been.

Toss apples in sugar, cinnamon, and a touch of flour...

Toss apples in sugar, cinnamon, and a touch of flour…

This year, we have a touch too many almonds in the house at the moment.  My sister’s boyfriend gave Mom a massive bag of those nuts earlier this year.  Then a cousin sent over an equally large bag.  Throw in the huge jar of unroasted almonds an aunt brought in from California and it would certainly be safe to say that we have a regular glut of the stuff.

Apples and almonds are a classic combination that is usually eaten in salads or in traditional Jewish desserts and seasonal condiments such as haroset which is eaten during Passover.  In many Western countries, the combination is more commonly seen in baked goods that are warm and satisfying, perfect foil to the encroaching cold that seeps in as autumn gradually gives way to winter.  That said, I decided to use the nuts to give my pie a toasty aroma and a luscious taste that certainly evokes the hearty flavours of the season – a perfect precursor to the delights of the Holiday feast.

Use two kinds of apples...

Use two kinds of apples…

One more thing: I subscribe to the notion of using two varieties of apples for an apple pie.  In Nigella Lawson’s How to Be a Domestic Goddess, she features a dish referred to as “Double Apple Pie as it uses Cox and Bramley apples.  The thing here is that you need a crisp, tart apple to bring on the texture and a sweeter, mealier-textured one to round out the taste.  For this particular recipe, I used mealy but sweet Washington apples with their dark red – almost maroon-coloured – skins and the paler, crispier Fuji variety.  When you bake this in your own kitchen, try different varieties until you find a combination that suits you just fine.

Also: throw in a pinch of cinnamon into the crust for extra flavour.  😉

Serve cold with hot coffee (or hot with ice cream)!

Serve cold with hot coffee (or hot with ice cream)!

Almond Crumble Apple Pie
For the Crust:

  • 1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1/4 cup vegetable shortening or butter
  • 1/4 cup iced water
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

For the Filling:

  • 3 medium Fuji apples, peeled, cored, and diced
  • 3 medium Washington apples, peeled, cored, and diced
  • 1/2 cup granulated white sugar
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

For the Streusel:

  • 1/4 cup ground almonds
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons margarine or butter

Grease a nine-inch pie plate; set aside.  Cut the shortening and salt into the flour with two knives or a pastry blender until the mixture has the appearance of fine breadcrumbs.  Add the iced water by tablespoons, tossing the mixture with a fork until well combined.  Form dough into a ball and set upon a floured surface.  Roll out the dough to approximately 1/2 inch thickness and line the prepared pan.  Set aside.

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees / Gas Mark 5.

Make the streusel by cutting together the flour, brown sugar, and butter till the mixture also resembles breadcrumbs.  Set aside.

Toss the sliced apples with the brown sugar, cinnamon, and flour.  Leave to rest for about fifteen minutes.  Drain off much of the liquid; otherwise, your filling could make the crust soggy.

Dump the filling into the prepared crust, evenly spreading it over the surface.  Cover with the streusel.

Cover with aluminium foile and bake for 25 minutes.  Remove the foil and bake an additional 20 minutes.

Serve hot with ice cream or allow to cool completely and serve with hot coffee.

Makes 1 pie and serves about 8.

In Which the Blogger Attempts a Coffee Chiffon Cake…

Batter in the tin...

Batter in the tin…

It never feels nice to be compared to others.  It makes you feel so inadequate, so inept, and so worthless.  In my case, it is something I’ve had to live with for almost my entire life.  While I was growing up, I would be compared to one of my cousins who could play the piano and went to the University of the Philippines; said cousin also got called upon to be a sagala for the traditional Maytime Flores de Mayo (flower festivals in honour of the Blessed Virgin).  I was always made to feel ugly and stupid; never intelligent enough…never good enough for anything.

But, if there is anything that I can do that my cousin probably can’t in order to save her life, it would have to be writing, cooking, and baking.  And, of late, I’ve become more daring with regard to the latter.

Bite of cake?

Bite of cake?

Those of you who read this blog on a regular basis are aware of that the projects I have been doing lately are starting to get a little more elaborate.  There was the Japanese cheesecake.  And then there were cream puffs – a feat I intend to follow up with gougeres soon enough, or probably a batch of crispy, deep-fried churros.  And, of course, chiffon cakes.

My mother’s orange chiffon is the standard against I judge my own and, according to her, mine is every bit as good.  However, the toughest act to follow along these lines is my grandmother’s recipe for coffee chiffon cake.

The way my grandmother used to describe it when she was alive was mouth-watering enough: a  light chiffon sponge flavoured with instant coffee (Nescafe was the brand of choice in those days) and slathered on top with condensed milk flavoured with more instant coffee before serving.  It was a treat she would serve more as an afternoon snack rather than a dessert.  (Hopefully not with any more coffee; I don’t think anyone would’ve slept after all that caffeine!)

Since my grandmother died in early 1998, no one in the family has dared to bake a coffee chiffon.  Well, until now.

Slice up and serve

Slice up and serve

I cannot, as yet, disclose my recipe for a coffee chiffon.  Truth be told, mine was rather dense (moist, though) rather than properly fluffy.  It was, nevertheless, richly flavoured and satisfying.  Probably not as good – as yet – as my grandmother’s, but it’s getting there.

And, at least, it only proves that I am good for something.  And, in this case, I am – for once – incomparable to anyone else in the family.