Posted in A Girl at Lunch, Holiday Cuisine, Home Baking, Home Cooking, Restaurant Hopping, The Flavors of Asia, The Pinoy Food Route, This is a Catholic's Blog - DEAL WITH IT, Uncategorized

Feasting on Duck by a Country Road

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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?”

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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. 🙂

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Posted in Restaurant Hopping, The Flavors of Asia, The Grocery Shop-a-holic, The Wonders of Japanese Cuisine, Uncategorized

And I’m Back…With a Recipe, Too

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Kangkong and bacon salad

It’s been a very busy three or four months since my last post.

I’ve settled in nicely at my current workplace and have managed well through my first five issues with the magazine.  While there was a rather depressing incident involving the misspelling of someone’s name, it’s been a rather fulfilling and satisfying time.

However, that’s also meant that I haven’t had at all that much time with which to update the blog.  This doesn’t mean, of course, that I’ve been too busy to cook.  On the contrary, that’s something I’ve been doing a lot of lately.

And so, this salad.  This takes inspiration from the horensou-bacon (sauteed spinach with bacon) I love from Tori Ichi, a yakitori joint over at the new wing of the Festival Supermall. The sublime salty, smoky flavour of the bacon goes down a treat with the spinach; just that and a mound of hot rice is just heavenly.

But since spinach isn’t exactly available all the time here, I’ve used kangkong (swamp cabbage / water spinach) to pretty much make the dish at home.  I must say that it is rather savoury and, yes: it also goes well with hot rice.

Easy Warm Kangkong and Bacon Salad

  • 1 bundle kangkong, stems finely chopped and leaves set aside
  • 6 strips fatty bacon (trust me; you do not want to use the lean kind here), diced
  • 1 small red onion or shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste

In a pan over medium heat, cook the bacon until the fat has rendered and the meat has browned a little. Remove the meat from the pan; set aside.

Saute the onion in the drippings until softened; add the garlic and cook till browned a little around the edges.  Add the chopped kangkong stems and cook till crisp-tender, about five minutes.  Add the bacon and cook an additional three minutes or till the bacon is crisp around the edges.

Reduce heat to medium-low and add the reserved leaves.  Cover and leave to cook for about two minutes, just enough to wilt the leaves.  Add the balsamic vinegar and toss the kangkong and bacon till well-coated.  Remove from the heat and season to taste.

Serves 4.

 (Oh, and by the way: I’m back and blogging…if a trifle sporadically.)

Posted in A Girl at Lunch, Restaurant Hopping, Uncategorized

In Which One Encounters the Halal Guys…

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Don’t judge me; I was hungry

Long time readers know this about me: if there’s a new place to nosh, I’m on it; I’m there.  More so if it’s a franchise of some foreign place I’ve only read about, say, on Serious Eats, Food 52, BuzzFeed, or Lucky Peach.  In this case, I had to head for the Halal Guys to see what all the hubbub was about.

The Halal Guys started out as a dinky wee food cart in Manhattan in 1990 when its founders ran a hot dog cart on the southeast corner of 53rd St. and Sixth Avenue.  Having been raised in the Middle Eastern / Mediterranean tradition of big, substantial meals, they figured that the lunch crowd probably found hot dogs unsatisfying for a midday meal.  They ended up serving grilled chicken over rice with Mid-eastern sauces; the rest, as they say, is history.

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Falafels

I decided to start the meal with a classic: falafels.  Php 99.00 gets you a four-piece serve that, if you’re peckish, can stand in as a light meal.  These are hefty chickpea nuggets that are absolutely moreish: properly seasoned with just the right hint of earthy cumin to go with the nutty lentils that make up the mash.  A splodge of white sauce – their spin on classic tzatziki – adds a tangy, garlicky touch.

Most people who have reviewed HG in this part of the world complained that the falafels they got were cold and stodgy.  I think I was one of the lucky few who got a batch fresh out of the fryer as mine were hot, crisp on the outside, and creamy-chunky within.

I followed this up with a regular gyro platter (Php 299.00) – and found that I’d probably bitten off more than I could chew, so to speak, as the portion was massive.  Here, gyro meat is shaved off the chunk revolving on a kitchen spit and scattered on top of a tasty, orange-hued rice pilaf along with fresh lettuce, tomatoes, and sliced pita.

I confess: I was disappointed.  I wasn’t sure what meat had been used in the gyro; I mean, I wasn’t sure if it was lamb, beef, veal, or a combination thereof.  While it was grilled nicely with a proper char that crisped the outside, the texture reminded me of commercial lunch meats or cold cuts.  Also, one could only have one sauce on top; you’d have to pay extra for an additional dollop – not cool in light of the fact that the original HG carts let you have extra sauce for free.  Still, the rice and fresh veg were very good and just needed sauce to make it a meat-free meal.

I am not going to let this misstep stop me from going back, though.  I am seriously intrigued by the chicken on fries and the basbousa (semolina and almond cake) on the dessert menu.  Likewise, maybe I’ll just opt for chicken or falafel on my platter next time.

The Halal Guys @ SM Fashion Hall: 5th Floor – SM Fashion Hall, SM Megamall, Ortigas Centre, Mandaluyong

Posted in Drinkables, Uncategorized

In Which We Have an Evening with a Mixologist…

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Swiss mixologist Tasha Lu and three signature cocktails

“Do you drink gin?” my colleague asked on a Tuesday afternoon just as things were winding down for the day.

“Sure I do,” I replied.  Truth be told: gin is something like a personal introduction to alcohol for me.  I remember stealing sips of my dad’s or my paternal grandfather’s gin and tonic when I was very young.  But there’s a family joke that, to quieten my kicking in my mother’s womb, my mom had to down a G&T to shut me up…so I guess you could say gin and I go a way back – a long way back, actually.

When I was in college, I’d volunteer to sample gin cocktails whipped up by the HRM upperclassmen who were like big brothers to me.  Whenever they were prepping for an exam in bartending (yes, there is a university class for bartending!), the way they muttered the names of each cocktail was like listening to a litany of sublime – and somewhat forbidden – delights: gimlets, martinis, Singapore slings, lime rickeys, Negronis…  Unfortunately, by the time all my on-campus big brothers graduated, their successors – my batchmates and those a year or so behind me – were mad about mixing gin with instant grapefruit drink powder to make the infamous pseudo-cocktail gin pomelo.  Needless to say that I washed my hands of the lot.

But back to the present: aforementioned colleague invited me to come along for a mixology event for Hendrick’s Gin at the Makati Shangri-La featuring mixologist Tasha Lu, the product’s brand ambassador for the Asian region.  This fun, fabulous femme regaled us and everyone at the bar with three amazing cocktails.

Hendrick’s, before I go on, is a gin with a twist.  Aside from the traditional mix of juniper and other botanicals, this particular distillate features Bulgarian roses and English cucumber to add a deliciously floral nuance with a fresh bite.  As a result, this is a gin that lends itself to getting mixed with both strong and subtle flavours to add an innovative punch to traditional cocktails.

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Gin Garden

First up: the fresh-tasting gin garden.  This cocktail features Hendrick’s gin shaken with fresh pineapple juice, torn cilantro [green coriander], lime juice, egg white, and a dash of cracked black pepper.  It is a bright, refreshing drink: sweet but not cloyingly so, sharp without ripping a hole down your throat.  The addition of black pepper at the end brings out the floral character of the base alcohol and adds a spicy, exotic aroma.

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Fairy Tale

The fairy tale is a very girly concoction that will probably go well with ladies who sip Cosmopolitans.  It’s a bright pink drink that combines the gin with a roasted juniper infusion and a poached rhubarb shrub; a dash of simple syrup adds a tad more sweetness and a rose petal is used as a garnish.

It’s a touch too sweet for me; personally, the simple syrup is overkill on my tastebuds.  But I can see this cocktail’s appeal for those who don’t care much for the taste of gin.  Nevertheless, it’s quite tasty and dangerously easy to drink…if you have a killer sweet tooth.

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Ultimate Negroni #2

But Lu’s ultimate Negroni #2 was, hands-down, my favourite drink of the night.  This bittersweet sipper features Hendrick’s gin and a host of bitter and sweet mix-ins.  Along with the bitter Campari and sweet red vermouth that make up the traditional Negroni with the gin, Lu tossed in splashes of Aperol, an Italian aperitif made with bitter orange and rhubarb, as well as that infamous amaro Fernet-Branca.  Served over ice, this spin on the Negroni gives drinkers an additional dash of drama by appearing with a torched and glowing stick of cinnamon lightly resting on the rim of the glass as a stirrer.

Perfectly balanced, I consider this a great drink with which to unwind with friends at the end of the day.

I guess, for all intents and purposes, I’ll always be a gin girl.

Posted in Restaurant Hopping, The Grocery Shop-a-holic, Uncategorized

In Which We Talk About Tenderloin…

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USDA Beef Tenderloin…with all the trimmings

It goes without saying that a good steak is one of the finest dining pleasures in the world.  And by “steak” I mean a prime piece of beef: not pork, not chicken, not fish, and definitely not that horrendous slab of plant-based detritus the vegan terrorists are trying to talk us into eating.  No, a proper, bloody steak.

When cooking at home, the cut of choice is a proper rib-eye: gorgeously marbled, preferably bone-in, meltingly tender, and cooks to a wonted medium in minutes on a very hot grill pan.  When dining out, however, a filet mignon is just the thing to suit beefy cravings when one is feeling indulgent.  And, once in a blue moon when nice dinner invites are accepted, there’s proper tenderloin.

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Come to momma…

A tenderloin is found on the lower back of the animal, usually the portion closest to the kidneys.  In traditional butchering, the cut is further divided into three: the butt end which is shaved for carpaccio, the tail end which is minced fine for steak tartare and beef Stroganoff, and the eye from which the actual steaks are cut.

A tenderloin steak is at its best if cooked rare to medium rare: that way, you get the full impact of the ferrous tang of the meat tempered by the rich, buttery fat.  Any more and you’ve needlessly toughened up the meat.  Also: real gourmets know that a lean tenderloin is a curse against both God and humanity – what the hell is wrong with all those lean meat junkies?!  You need that fat for flavour, for the love of everything holy!

Truth be told, a good tenderloin needs but a good sprinkling of salt, a faint dusting of pepper, and a small knob of butter melting upon its still-steaming, nicely charred surface.  Mashed potatoes are a must, buttered veg is de rigueur.  Truffle butter – or any other flavoured butter – is a matter of personal taste.  But I say: bring it on, et laissez les bon temps rouler.

Oh, and a proper red is just the thing to wash it down.

Posted in A Girl at Lunch, Restaurant Hopping, The Flavors of Asia, The Wonders of Japanese Cuisine, Uncategorized

In Which the Blogger Comes Back…

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Butter Corn Ramen

I’ve been busy.

That’s the only excuse I can give my dear readers: I’ve been busy.  Very much so, as a matter of fact.  So much, in fact, that I totally didn’t post anything in September, birthday post included.  I think I needed time to get back in sync, find myself, and start over.  The bulk of 2016 from February to mid-August had to be one of the most traumatic times – if not the most traumatic time – in my life.  Suffice it to say that I am breathing easier now…plus, a surprise opportunity pretty much hauled me out of freelancing and right into a field I’ve always hankered to get into: lifestyle journalism.

But, now: for some food – and serious comfort food at that: ramen, specifically.

A recent grocery shopping trip led me to River Park, the most recent addition to the currently expanding Festival Supermall in Alabang.  There are a number of interesting new restaurants, but the one I specifically wanted to try was Ashikawa Ramen Bangaichi.

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Fill up my bowl, o-negai shimasu!

 A branch of a Tokyo-based chain, Bangaichi’s local franchise is held by the same group that runs the Vietnamese chain Pho Hoa.  Keeping this in mind, one should not be surprised that the back of the large menu card offers Vietnamese dishes.  But, while I’ve become a phobun cha, and banh mi fan, I’m not here for Indochinese flavours: I’m here for the ramen!

And a rather large and satisfying bowl of ramen, as a matter of fact.  Bangaichi’s butter corn shoyu ramen (Php 340.00) is loaded up with al dente wheat noodles in a rich, slightly porky, wonderfully umami soy-based broth.  A knob of butter melting in the hot soup adds a subtle richness that goes beautifully with bright yellow sweetcorn kernels, slivers of slightly tart menma (salt-pickled bamboo shoots), and fresh-tasting wakame seaweed.  The bowl also comes with two generous slices of chashu pork: prettily charred around the edges with the char adding a welcome and somewhat nutty bitterness to the sweet, fatty meat.

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Soup’s all gone; now for the good stuff…

Call me silly, but my way of eating ramen involves sipping down all the broth before getting down to the noodles et les accoutrements.  Once the broth is gone, I sprinkle in some shichimi togarashi for a fiery accent and grind in toasted sesame for some nutty oomph.  Toss everything together, and I am a happy camper.

How does this compare to the Sapporo Corn Ramen at, say, Shinjuku Ramen?  Not bad, really; while it does not have the almost electric funk of the Shinjuku version (which has a touch of garlic to throw things for a loop), Bangaichi’s corn ramen holds its own very well and definitely is something to come back for on a rainy afternoon.

Ashikawa Ramen Bangaichi – River Park, Festival Supermall, Alabang, Muntinlupa

Posted in Home Baking, Home Cooking, Uncategorized

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.