A cookie that’s more than the sum of its parts

Burby’s used to be a watering hole for people to drink and be merry after work. But they actually serve stellar meals. I’m glad I got to appreciate it in its current state. The food is good, but allow me this moment to single out one beautiful piece of work.

It started as a joke. Yedy asked if their “cookie for two” was as big as her face. Sabrina gave a mock appraisal before telling us she’ll bring one out later for us to try it (and see for ourselves, but that didn’t come from her).
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The food was festive, and I will go back so I could appreciate it even more before I write about it. I know I’m getting ahead of myself here but the barbecued ribs, lechon kare-kare and their Burby’s chicken are at the top of my list. I had to let that out.

Glancing at the menu I didn’t really feel that their desserts were pulling me in. They were pushing an all-day breakfast menu among other things. The dessert might as well be a reliable but less popular foil.
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Then the cookie was served. It wasn’t as big as Yedy’s face. It was baked in a ceramic plate. It didn’t look like much so expectations weren’t all that high.
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I got my little spoon and scooped out a piece at the fringes. It was chewy and full of flavour. It was good, I thought to myself. I couldn’t stop myself from taking another bite because that’s just how I roll.
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Right there…fireworks. My face lit up, and my mouth formed an ‘o’. I may or may not have muttered a curse word.

I got its point.

That was when things went from above average to warm, chewy and gooey. The cookie dough hasn’t fully set, with a textured, chewy exterior and a warm, an almost melt-in-your-mouth interior. It’s like that cake batter left on the spoon that you couldn’t resist licking. It’s like that sexy, silky yolk you just have to mix with rice. It was sweet with a dash of salty and the chocolate an explosion of decadence. Spoonful after spoonful of warm cookie mixed with ice cream was just a treat. Decadence. Happiness.

A great, unpretentious dessert can really hit you with a wave of comfort. It can make you feel good, even if you might have overindulged. Count the calories later, or never.

Who knew a cookie could be more than the sum of its parts? It’s probably one of the best things I’ve had this year.

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Just for the record, after we demolished the first plate we regret not taking a photo of it. Then we got a second serving, and we were happy kids. I used the second one for the photographs.

A special thanks to Eugene for being part of the photo!

No matter what happens

We’re halfway through January and here we are with my first real post for the year! You’ve got to give me some credit, people. I’m almost done with internship and I absolutely have no idea what to do next. Well, I have been throwing around a couple of things, but most of it involves climbing a mountain to marvel at a sea of clouds or lounging about by the shore of a virgin beach. Career shmareer. It can wait!

I’ve only begun to discover the joy of instagram. My handle is @thehungrygiant, and I rarely post selfies so follow me to appreciate just how much of a glutton I am. And while we’re on the subject, here are a few things that have made my January. It’s a stark contrast to the quality of the photos I usually include in my posts, but I’m attempting to write this on my new ipad so allow me to be brisk, just for the sake of written word.

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Baking bread almost every day is one of the things I absolutely love doing. And I’m not writing this just because the people I work with read my blog from time to time. I love baking, let’s just put it out there. And to think I went to cooking school because I wanted to become a savory cook. Well, plans change. And I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the universe is listening.

I’m also a tad out of shape lately, thanks to the almost daily after work binge eating. We end service at around 10 or 11, so I guess I must be going against every bullet point on healthy eating. And it scares me that sometimes (okay, most of the time) I eat for two people. But whatever, I’m happy. Don’t judge! Carinderia food is the bomb.

I have great news coming up and it really deserves its own post. Some of you may know about it already since it’s not really a secret and my facebook timeline says it all but still, a follow-up post is in order.

I promised myself that I would never abandon the blog because it has given me so much. So I won’t. Resolutions don’t really work for me, so I can’t promise that regular posts are coming. But I told myself the other day that no matter what happens, I will write. I’m on to something here, and I’d like to believe writing about whatever could open a few more doors for me. I love this blog too much that it doesn’t deserve to be filled with useless brain farts. My twitter would be a better option for that! (Follow me @giooraay)

I’m not dead y’all. Don’t count me out just yet.

To the year that was

Here we are again, it’s the end of another year. I’m parked right where I was a year before: at the edge of my parents’ bed, home for the holidays. I’m typing, trying to fish the words out of a bowl.

I completely take all the responsibility for not taking advantage of the holidays to write. I didn’t try hard enough. In a way, I didn’t try at all. It’s funny because towards the end of the year, so much has happened.

So many great, amazing blessings came my way, and I kept it to myself for the most part, save for a few status updates on facebook.

But most of it involved the blog, one way or the other, so it would be such a disservice to simply box everything in a blurb. So here it goes:
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The Hungry Giant is Mindanao’s best food blog (!). Google Mindanao and the first few articles you might stumble upon might not be the most flattering of descriptions. It’s a study of contrasts: forward and backward, good and bad, yes and no. But there’s a pulse that insists that 1/3rd of the Philippine archipelago is chock full of talent.

I couldn’t attend the Mindanao Blog Awards personally because I was at work (I’m doing my internship at The Goose Station!) so I had to settle for a screen-grab one of my friends posted on my facebook wall. Oh yeah.
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I’m part of a book. My name and mug are on print, out now in National Bookstore outlets around Metro Manila. Eats 2014, published by Hinge Inquirer, is a guidebook for all the curious, lustful people who intend to eat out for most of the year. Yes, I am a subtle pervert.
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But seriously, the consolidation is remarkable. It’s divided into categories, from burgers to seafood to dessert. The broad list is further broken down according to budget – from save, reasonable to splurge. I was given the opportunity to write about restaurants with international flavors, from German to Mexican to Vietnamese. It’s a great book and worth every penny.

Coming from a purely amateur writing background, it’s humbling that my writing has been taking off, and taking me places.

In as much as I’d like to stay on cloud nine, it hasn’t been a smooth year. I lost one of my best friends a few months before all of this happened. When you lose someone you care about in a violent way, it shakes you up and leaves you with not just scars but questions. That much is true.

Sometimes I have to remind myself to take a step back, breathe and take it all in both the good and the bad. In my paltry twenty-two years of living, I know that there is nothing absolute about living in the world.

For what it’s worth, 2013 was such a ride. If online Chinese astrology is any indication, 2014 will be my year. As always, I’m hopeful. But I’m not counting on that just yet. In the meantime, since I’m being all confessional here, towards the end of the year I realized Oasis has the perfect song for me.

From the scars on my skin and heart, here it goes. My anthem:

Life is short

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His name was Jad. We’ve been friends since high school, which means that I’ve known him for roughly 11 years. It was a friendship born from convenience – we found out that we live not too far from each other, so we made the usual daily commute to and from school together. We were a funny looking pair – I was the tall, fat and bespectacled kid while he was short, thin. Both of us had bad posture, so that’s one thing we had in common.

He was far from perfect. In fact, those who knew him all too well will say that he was rough around the edges. He had a short-temper, which is pretty funny considering his frame. He was a little fire cracker. He spoke his mind, and got into a lot of petty fights with friends and classmates. I also think he holds the class record for the most number of arguments with teachers. And apparently that string started in elementary school! But he was also gracious enough to accept defeat and apologize, even if it took weeks. A study of contrasts, he was.

We went to the same university after high school, and we found ourselves classmates once again taking up a course neither one of us felt was our calling. We belonged to the same high-strung group of friends, so that made early university life pretty good.

Both of us were far from perfect. Jad and I went through a rough patch in our third year. Looking back it was more of me being stubborn, holding onto the idea that people can be changed. Eventually we had a falling out. Honestly we’ve never been the same people since. But when all that was left was dust, we were still friends. It was a long process, and the bridge we thought was burned was still there, holding on for the both of us.

Time changes people, though. Eventually we found our respective niches. Mine was in the kitchen and his was in sales. He became a good (and persistent) pharmaceuticals salesman and a motivational coach. For someone who lacked self-esteem and was rough around the edges, he found himself in a great place. The past year we haven’t been communicating frequently, just the usual pleasantries but I thought that was fine – both of us were preoccupied with our own lives.

I thought that was fine because we had our whole lives ahead of us to keep in touch.

I was with my friends Yedy and Eugene when I got the call. Jad had been shot, and after a grueling hour of waiting for news, my mom told me what I already felt and knew: he was gone. I booked the earliest morning flight home.

Leading up to the funeral, it was a painful week.

Until now there are so many questions, so many speculations. It leaves me baffled that the odds were against him. He was a nice guy. He was loved, if the tributes people made during the days of the wake were any indication. I loved him like a brother.

It’s been two weeks since we laid him to rest. The pain has ebbed, but it’s still there. I know he’s gone, I could tell you right now to your face that he’s gone. But in the moments of silence, when the gravity of it all sinks in, and I mean really sinks in, the proverbial wave of ice-cold water still leaves me gutted.

Rational thought escapes me, and I still have to ask myself if he’s really gone because it’s a hard pill to swallow. It’s a bitter, painful pill.

Time was good to us. His job was great for him. Every now and then he would randomly send me a text message (he does this to all his friends), asking me how I’m doing. It hurts to know that’ll never happen anymore.

Right now I’m home. I never thought I’d be going home for a funeral. I thought I would leave as abruptly as I arrived, but here I am almost three weeks later enjoying its comforts. I’m home, in same city that he loved until his death

I’ve never known grief like this. I think it’s a more painful weight to carry because it’s laced with anger. And I’ve never known anger like this.

Jad read my blog every now and then, and he always supported whatever decision I made. He was a cheerleader like that, not just to me but for a lot of people. That’s why people loved and respected him. But apparently that’s not enough to warrant the reprieve of a bullet.

My friends and I will, in our own capacities, find justice for Jad. We don’t want his death to be trivialized. He’s not part of a statistic.

Life is beautifully and painfully short. Although it’s painful to know that his life was abruptly and unjustly halted, I can find comfort in the idea that he was in a good place in his life when he died. He realized what fulfilled his days, and until the last minute, he was chasing his happiness.

I’ve been quiet for more than a month now and a few days ago, The Hungry Giant celebrated its second year. I couldn’t really fabricate excitement to make a big deal of the event, so pardon me.

I’ve actually been cooking and baking while I’ve been home and that’s always given me comfort, for what it’s worth. I’ll be okay. It’s a process, but I’ll be okay. I’ll still write, and I’ll keep on writing, if it means keeping certain things alive.

It has finally happened

The previous week bogged me down and left me with little energy to write, or at least think about what to write. Dawn until dusk I spent it in school working in the kitchen, preparing what needs to be done for the little cafe project that served as our final requirement. To capture the craziness that went on would be difficult, and this post isn’t really about that. It’s about a totally different kind of crazy that I thought wouldn’t really happen to me this soon, but apparently the universe knows how to throw a good curveball.

A few months ago Yedy approached me with an idea: submit a few recipes for a magazine she writes for and let’s see how it goes. Well, right now I can finally, finally cross one item off my bucketlist: see my name in print, on a real magazine.
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Gala Magazine isn’t exactly a food magazine. It’s really geared towards events, but beyond the niche, I especially enjoy the intelligently written content coupled with great photos, even if I’m not an alternative band fan or a runner, or a traveller. Wait, just how sheltered am I again?

But each month content is expanding and I’m really humbled and grateful to be part of that movement, even for just one issue.

So for its May issue you can read about (and hopefully make) my version of French macarons with buttercream and pan-fried salmon belly with mushrooms and lemon butter sauce! Gala is available around NCR, wherever there’s a National bookstore outlet, Starbucks, or fancy hotel (so I’ve been told).
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I wish I could be there

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It’s the day after Mother’s Day and as I’m writing this I’m hoping that the courier doesn’t screw up more than it already has. Mom hasn’t received her package yet and right now the timing (and the drama) is off. (Edit: the package arrived and apparently reduced mom to a puddle of tears. What was the gift? A simple handwritten letter)

The last time I was with the family was when I went home for the Easter holidays more than a month ago. Suffice to say I went a little crazy, baking almost everyday. The macarons I wrote about were one of the things I churned out (which reminds me, I’m tinkering with the next installment to that post!). To be honest I wasn’t all that keen to go home. I kept on thinking that I need to sensitize myself to the separation, as depressing as it sounds. But that week off turned out to be one of the best vacation weeks I’ve ever had, and by the time I had to be whisked off to the airport, I was a hot mess. I’ve never been that sad to leave home.
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But to dwell on how much abuse my oven received makes things less morose. To think about how much I enjoyed making sans rival makes things a lot better.

I always though making sans rival was unattainable. But I always enjoy eating the layers of crunchy-chewy meringue, with buttercream sandwiched in between, all dressed in a rich velvet layer of more buttercream. That was before I went to school so basically I thought a lot of baked goods seemed impossible to make by my lonesome. That was then, this is now. And during the course of the week I was able to make five, a pretty awesome feat by my standards.

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Right now I’m at a place where I can say that anything baked isn’t impossible to make. This one is no exception. Making it wasn’t a breeze of course – time and patience (things I feel I lack) are the key elements here. It’s one of those desserts that have components made separately and then put together to make one solid piece of goodness.

This is a nod to my mom, who is (a cheesy comparison coming up) really like sans rival. She’s a crowd favorite and everyone instantly likes her, she’s both sturdy and fragile (sometimes at the same time), and although on the outside she seems to be all butter, you’ll see that she’s made up of so much more than that. She’s never typical.

Last year when I was still home we had this silly moment together where her favorite song was playing on the radio and she just took my hand and whirled me around the kitchen. It was awkward, I was embarrassed, mortified…and strangely enough right now I wish I could do it all over again.
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Coffee Buttercream Sans Rival

serves around 8

This recipe is good enough to make three rectangular sheets that could fit in a half-sheet tray (18 by 13 inches). I decided to pipe the meringue into rounds instead of rectangles, but I still used a sheet tray lined with a silicone mat that measures 11 5/8 by 16 ½ inches. Two rounds fit in the silicone mat so I worked in batches. Alternatively, you can also use cake pans, greased, lined with parchment, greased again, and floured.

  • 180 grams clean egg whites
  • a pinch of cream of tartar
  • 170 grams granulated sugar
  • 10 grams all-purpose flour
  • 50 grams granulated sugar (for the flour and nut mixture)
  • 60 grams cashew nuts, processed/chopped into very small pieces
  • additional cashew nuts for decoration

Whip the egg whites and cream of tartar until soft peaks. Gradually add the sugar and whip until stiff.Combine the sugar, flour and nuts and fold it into the meringue, working in 3 additions. Use a piping bag to pipe the mixture onto the pan, using a spiral motion to create equal circles. Bake at 350 F/180 C for 30 – 45 minutes or until golden brown. Allow to cool at room temperature.

Coffee Buttercream

recipe adapted from Memories of Philippine Kitchens by Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan

  • 7 egg yolks
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 454 grams/1 pound unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 6 tablespoons coffee powder (or more if a stronger flavor is desired)

Beat the yolks and sugar using an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, until it becomes light and lemon-colored. Warm the heavy cream in a large saucepan, until bubbles appear around the sides. Whisk the heavy cream into the yolks and return it to the saucepan. Stir over low heat until thick, around 10 – 12 minutes. Be careful not to let it boil or else it will curdle. Remove from heat, transfer to a large bowl (or the bowl of an electric mixer) and let it cool.

You can whisk the buttercream by hand or use an electric mixer, with the paddle attachment. Either way, add the butter into the cooled custard bit by bit, beating the pieces in until completely absorbed before adding in the next. Add the vanilla extract. When all the butter has been incorporated and the mixture is smooth, you can set aside 1/3 of the buttercream, and mix in the coffee powder into the remaining 2/3. Set aside until ready to use.

Assemble: place one layer of meringue on a plate or cake board. Using a straight or offset spatula, spread an even but thin layer of buttercream on it, and top with the second layer. Repeat, then top with the third layer. Spread the buttercream on top, and along the sides. When the coating is generous and even, you can pipe decorative rosettes using the regular buttercream on top. If the surrounding temperature is a bit warm the buttercream might soften too much for you to achieve good, sturdy piping. At this point you can let the mixture rest in the fridge, or to speed up the process, place it in the freezer for a couple of minutes.

Coat the sides and sprinkle the top with the chopped cashew nuts. When coating the sides, get a handful of the chopped nuts and lightly pat the side making sure that the nuts stick to the buttercream. The excess will fall of and you can clean it up when you’re done decorating.

Place it in the refrigerator or freezer until ready to serve.

There’s a spring in my step

All good things must come to an end. And this right here, this is the perfect photo finish. It’s funny that I marked my “revival” with an entry about beginnings. In the cycle of things, an ending is essentially a beginning in itself. We’ve all heard the adage.
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I can still remember the first day of cooking school. Everything in between was filled with so much highs and lows, and of course, food. Now this is the part where I’m about to place a period in the sentence because my time in cooking school is almost over. Classes are done, and to cap off the baking part of the program, our comprehensive exam had us create four identical plated desserts, the dessert being a strawberry mille feuille. It has components that we’ve all learned, from the puff pastry, joconde sponge, mousseline cream, to the tempered chocolate.

The night before I was a hot mess. If there was a single component I was afraid of it was the cream. There’s a glaring difference between thick and thin and try as I might I always end up with thin cream when it’s supposed to be thick.

After stress eating (because I do that occasionally, when push comes to shove), saying a prayer at the local church and talking to my mom (she basically encouraged me to stress eat), the big day has arrived.

We had two hours and thirty minutes to complete the four plates, and with around ten minutes to spare I was done. Everything was so vivid, it played out like an action movie. I couldn’t have picked a better time to just shut up and do it, because I really did well if I do say so myself. Everything was all me.
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We still have a major project coming up and then I’m off to do my internship (I’m crossing my fingers), but right now I’m just too happy. The partial proverbial weight has been lifted off my shoulders.

I had a conversation with one of my best friends last night. I’d like to believe we have a shared optimism when it comes to certain things in life. We both agree that it’s done in bad taste to make people wait. We also think that when you’re passionate, you could move mountains because relatively speaking, impossible is nothing.
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It’s strange to think that four little pieces of dessert have gotten me so riled up but what the heck, I’m rolling with it.