A good day at Kettle

I turned twenty-three almost a week ago. It wasn’t a spectacle. I spent it at the restaurant, baking breads and plating a few dishes for a crowd of twenty people (which in my book, is already stressful). My birthday week was my last week interning at The Goose, and as I’m writing this there’s a smile on my face because I survived three challenging months at the restaurant I’ve always wanted to work at. I’m left with a sense of accomplishment, but also uncertainty. I have plans I want to happen, a few paths I want to take but everything isn’t set in stone. Of course I’d love to (finally) earn my keep but more than half of my body and brain is screaming for a vacation. (Am I too demanding, universe? Do I even deserve a vacation?)

I did have two golden Sundays in a row though. The first one I spent with my friends I’ve had since high school at this little restaurant called Kettle. One blog I read about it warned that I shouldn’t make a mistake of ordering one dish per person because the servings are generous to begin with.

It totally makes sense that the five of us ordered six dishes then. Two orders of buttermilk fried chicken, four pieces of boneless chicken thighs and six pieces of cornbread all in all. The chicken was everything good in the world about dark meat – juicy and flavorful.
 photo P1570663_zpsb1320f20.jpg
 photo P1570670_zpsf77e3662.jpg
The blogs were right. It’s great chicken, partly because of the fact that people actually go the extra mile to serve uncomplicated, boneless chicken and partly because the same people know flavor. It’s not as if demolishing a bone-in chicken isn’t hard. I’ve had a solid reputation of “cleaning” the chicken well, leaving only the bone (sometimes even cleaning up after people’s chicken mess!). But not everyone is gifted with such profound talent.
 photo P1570677_zps09653c1b.jpg
 photo P1570674_zps58946e2b.jpg
The rest of the dishes whizzed by: lamb adobo, a shrimp po’boy sandwich, angus corned beef hash (a great breakfast item that I might go back to Kettle for), and the surprise of the day, seared salmon on a bed of cold soba noodles and a mango relish on the side. I didn’t order it, they did. I had this look on my face that questioned their motives, but I caved in. It was served at an inconvenient time, when we were about to be filled to the brim with all the protein and fat that came before it. I think I said to them, “You ordered the salmon, you eat it”, or something to that effect. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy salmon. But I didn’t condition my mind for salmon, so I was less than enthusiastic.
 photo P1570690_zpsdb993dbd.jpg
 photo P1570694_zps2113663f.jpg
They began to devour it, taking the soba by the forkful then piercing the salmon to get shreds of juicy meat. From them came a nod of approval. “Masarap” (delicious). It was my turn to taste it, still on the fence.

Looking back I didn’t see why I was so worked up to begin with. It’s a dish that plays on the richness of the salmon with the freshness of the soba and the cleansing effect of the mango relish. The dark horse was delicious indeed.

We were too hungry that day, so I think ordering too much didn’t allow a lot of savouring to happen. But I was in the company of great people so I didn’t mind it too much.

There’s a part two y’all! Wait for it. Meanwhile, follow me on instagram, because it has more food than selfies. I’m on twitter too!

Pork Belly Lechon

When I was back home, I constantly reminded myself of my schedule. I may or may not leave so soon, I realized. There was really no fixed date, no pressing matter to attend to.

Then came the invitation for dinner, around a week after Jad’s funeral. We (my friends/classmates) haven’t really had a chance to talk about things out in the open. The situation was a delicate one. But the dinner had to happen. Naturally, I hosted it, and played the part of the cook. It’s a part I like to play because I think cooking for people who matter is on the list of things that feed my soul.

I didn’t want it to be complicated. My dinners have never tried to be uptight and I want it to stay that way. I love my people, and maybe that helps.

And I love pork. Strokes of brilliance on this blog have always involved pork, one way or the other. When I was thinking about what to prepare for dinner, a glorious way to feast on pork was on my mind.

And this, my friends, is glorious (if I do say so myself).
 photo P1520746_zpscb0b6140.jpg
 photo P1520786_zpsed14003a.jpg
 photo P1520789_zps6870d9dd.jpg
Porchetta was on my mind when I was preparing my list. I’ve always wanted to make it, and I did get a chance to witness how it’s done when I was in school. But I also found myself craving for lechon while I was home. Mom would relent and come home with a small package of chopped up pig for me. That may have happened more than once.

I thought about taking a nice slab of pork belly and drowning it in the typical lechon aromatics (minus the calamansi because I don’t like it). Roasting it on low for a few hours makes it dastardly fork-tender, and during the last hour of baking, cranking the heat up will yield a crackling so divine.

The result blew me away. There is no breakthrough, no secret technique, no new flavor. I just made damn good lechon, and that for me, was a new notch in my belt. And if I’m being corny here, I’d like to call it “pinoychetta”. I’m also clever like that.
 photo P1520757_zps65468844.jpg
All in all, I had two more attempts just to prove the first one wasn’t a fluke. The first one was a trial-run (my mom and her office mates were the lucky ones). The second was for the dinner, and the last was the big bang before I left.

The dinner itself was great. They loved the pork. Because they’re my friends, naturally they had to sing praises.
 photo P1520867_zpscb81e313.jpg
 photo P1520830_zpsfd9ccfca.jpg
 photo P1520887_zpsb60452e5.jpg
They were fed well, we talked until we had no more stories to tell, and one of my friends, Jam, received a birthday cake a week early. It was a heavy chocolate cake with coffee buttercream, studded with shards of almond praline. I didn’t bring my piping tips so I was rubbish with the rosettes, but they liked it.

It was also passed around for posterity and the July babies went nuts. Somehow bearing the brunt of loss seemed lighter, even just for a night. I haven’t laughed so hard in a while.

So this pork is a thing of beauty. It’s not something you would whip up on a weeknight (but I’m not stopping you!). Reserve a weekend. Prepare this on Saturday, wake up early on Sunday to start roasting it. By lunchtime, you feast and the next day, you fast.
 photo P1520777_zpsca9bddf0.jpg

Roasted Pork Belly “Lechon”

  • 1.5 kg pork belly slab, skin on
  • 3 whole garlic bulbs, peeled and roughly chopped
  • ½ cup oregano leaves, washed then chopped
  • 3 red onions, peeled and chopped
  • around 4 – 5 lemongrass stalks, sliced
  • the zest from 1 lemon
  • juice from 1 lemon
  • a little over 1/8 cup salt, plus more for an even rub around the pork
  • 4 tablespoons crushed black pepper

Combine all the aromatics in a bowl and mix well. Lightly mash everything together with the back of a spoon. Alternatively, use a food processor to bring everything together with only around 2-3 pulses.

With the skin side down, rub the mixture all over the meat. Roll the slab, carefully invert the meat and secure it with butcher’s twine (and lemongrass leaves, like what I did). It’s okay if there are a few pieces of herbs that fall off, you can place it back later. Rub coarse salt all over the meat, including the skin. With a paring knife or fork, poke the skin of the meat. This will ensure a nice crackling. Transfer it to a roasting fitted with a rack and the bottom lined with foil. Place it in the refrigerator to chill overnight. This will dry the skin, which helps the crackling form.
 photo P1530270_zps416f36a2.jpg

 photo P1520800_zpsdbb0155b.jpg

variation: this will easily feed two – three

Preheat the oven to 160 C. Just to be sure, pat the skin of the pork dry with a paper towel. Roast the pork for 5 hours. Afterwards, increase the temperature to 220 C, and allow the pork’s crackling to form. This will take another 30 minutes to an hour. When done, remove from the oven and allow to cool a bit before slicing. Enjoy!
 photo P1520711_zps4222bd9c.jpg
 photo P1520742_zps83176931.jpg

Dark and White Chocolate Truffles

For as long as I could remember, dark chocolate has always been my poison of choice. It has a rich, complex and versatile flavour that makes me a very happy child. I’ve learned to develop my sweet tooth since I started baking. Now more than ever, I need dessert to cap off a meal, or probably even start it. Or it could be a meal in itself, who am I to complain? And a dessert with dark chocolate will always be a runaway favourite. Hands down.
 photo P1540446_zps8b93d35f.jpg
But with truffles, let’s make an exception. I’m a truffle pig that way. Bite-sized spheres of bliss, truffles are. Right now there’s a little container of truffles on my desk, calling out to me. People who know me, know that I have this weird mannerism of eating/nibbling impulsively, throwing caution to the wind. Whether it’s that singular chicken leg bone, a bag of Cheetos, or that measly petri dish filled with gravy, consider them done and devoured when I’m at the table.
 photo P1540425_zps421542ba.jpg
So the dilemma is how to avoid the truffles calling out to me right now. Okay, there’s no need to be overly dramatic, Gio. There’s no problem. Just eat the damn truffles already. /End internal conversation

My knees go weak for truffles. And erring on the side of danger here, but I see no reason why I can’t finish a plate of white chocolate truffles all by my lonesome. Yes, truffles make me do strange and dangerous things. The darks will always be there, and they’ll always be awesome. I coated them with toasted hazelnuts and pistachios, and it makes a great contrast in texture.
 photo P1540440_zps187f6161.jpg
But the whites are something else. Maybe it’s the pistachios. Maybe I attack them with the same gusto as I devour pork fat. Or maybe they’re just so good, there’s no need to beat around the bush.

Hello there, gorgeous.
 photo P1540429_zps074e94f1.jpg

Simple Dark and White Chocolate Truffles

makes around 30 pieces of each kind

  • 115 grams whipping cream (115 grams for each kind of chocolate)
  • 300 grams good quality or couverture bittersweet chocolate, chopped + around 150-200 grams more for tempering and dipping
  • 350 grams good quality or couverture white chocolate, chopped + around 150-200 grams more for tempering and dipping
  • 2 vanilla bean pods, seeds scraped
  • chopped pistachio and hazelnuts (roasted and peeled), as needed

In separate bowls, scale each kind of chocolate. Set aside. In a pot, combine vanilla seeds and cream, and bring to a boil. Add the cream to the chocolate and stir with a heat-proof spatula until it has melted. You can also place the bowl over a water bath to hasten the melting. When it’s smooth, allow it to chill in the fridge for 30 minutes to an hour, or until the ganache has thickened, but is still malleable.

Portion around 8-10 grams of chocolate and with clean/gloved hands, shape each piece into a rough ball. When it starts to melt too fast and you’re not yet done shaping, it’s best to pop the mixture back into the fridge to chill and harden a bit. It’s  best to work in a cool room.

Prepare all the ingredients for coating: the coating chocolate and the chopped nuts. Here are tutorials on how to temper dark and white chocolate. Create an organised assembly line starting with the chocolate balls, the tempered chocolate and lastly, the nuts. Place a tray or plate at the end of the line to place all the finished pieces.

Picking up the balls with a fork (don’t stab it!), dip it into the melted chocolate and allow the excess to drip. Coat it next with the nuts. What I do it I just plop it into the bowl of nuts and agitate the bowl so the nuts swirl around the truffle. Chill the finished products in the fridge.

Tinapa, Tomato and Truffle Linguine

I know, I know, sue me for fading into relative obscurity every now and then. It hasn’t been easy, you know, lounging and purging myself of all worldly pleasures before I dive into my internship. Yes, that was the plan – give myself a month to addle around, before all focus shifts to making sure that I survive this career. (Which reminds me! A year ago today, I wrote this, and it has made all the difference. I’m amazed)

But apparently the universe has its own time-table, and a string of events made my vacation drag on a longer than I intended it to be. Jad happened, among other things. You might be wondering how I’m holding up. It’s been more than a month now. It still hurts, my friends and I are still reeling from what happened. But we find ways to move along, which, I think, is vastly different from moving on. Life waits for no one.

So, I’m in a celebratory mood right now. For almost a year now I’ve been religiously going to the gym, and it has paid off. When I started I was at 21% body fat, a little over the normal for me. Then it went down to 17%, and just this morning after a session with my trainer I’m at 14%!

I’ve always struggled with my weight. I didn’t feel good and I didn’t like how I looked. Things got better in college, but it was still a battle of fluctuations.

It was only last year that I decided to hit the gym and keep the weight off. That was the initial goal, but it eventually evolved from a mission of pure vanity to simply self-improvement. It’s about feeling good by feeling strong, surpassing old goals and creating new ones and always challenging yourself. That mindset isn’t too farfetched, and is actually pretty helpful considering the industry I want to dive right into.

And I choose to celebrate this little victory by making really good pasta. Yes. Yes. Yes.
 photo P1540340-2_zps94eb536c.jpg
 photo P1540347-2_zps05703620.jpg
It has all the good stuff: linguine, shiitake and button mushrooms, olive oil, garlic and onions, dried tomatoes, a little bit of pesto, smoked tinapa/milkfish. For absolutely good measure, a nice little glug of truffle oil.

I had that for lunch and it was a tasty little thing. What you have before you is not much, and that’s because I ate most of it already. I was too eager to dig right in.
 photo P1540364-2_zpsfb640411.jpg

Tinapa, Tomato and Truffle Linguine

serves 2

  • 80 – 90 grams linguine
  • 1 piece smoked fish/tinapa, flaked
  • 1 cup shiitake mushrooms, sliced
  • ½ cup button mushrooms, sliced
  • ¼ cup sundried tomatoes (sold in a jar with oil)
  • 2 tablespoons of oil from the bottled sundried tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon pesto
  • half a garlic bulb, peeled and minced
  • 1 red onion, peeled and sliced
  • olive oil, as needed

In a medium sized pot, boil pasta in salty water according to package instructions, reserve around 1/8 cup of the starchy water.

In the same pot, add enough olive oil to lightly coat the bottom of the pot. Add the oil from the tomatoes. When it’s hot enough, add the garlic and onions and saute until fragrant. Add the tinapa, tomatoes and pesto. Season according to taste. Mix well and add the mushrooms. Cook until the mushrooms are tender. Add the pasta water and the pasta. Mix everything together and transfer to a plate. Drizzle with parmesan cheese and truffle oil. Serve and enjoy!

Simple pleasures

 photo file_zps1ca1631f.jpg
 photo file_zps3e7913a9.jpg

I don’t make bread often, and it’s only when I’m home that I get full reign. Making it made me appreciate just how amazing freshly baked, homemade, handmade baked is. As soon as it’s done, I let it cool for only a little bit. I then scramble for minced garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper and chili flakes – my dip of choice, with no balsamic vinegar. I heat all of that a bit, just so the flavors infuse.
 photo file_zps29d33acc.jpg
 photo file_zps9ed2a674.jpg

I slice through the bread, the exterior is hot and crusty. Steam billows out, it’s definitely fresh. The inside is pillow-like, riddled with holes – just right.

I pick up a crusty slice, dip it in the garlic oil, take a bite and just allow a moment of silence to sink in. Reverence is at play here. There is joy to be had from eating something made from scratch in all its humanity. It’s simple. It’s good.

You have to eat and enjoy bread while it’s still warm and crusty. Now more than ever I understand.
 photo file_zpsbf998fa8.jpg
 photo file_zpscb5ffa78.jpg

I’ve been hit with the realization that there are certain things and people in this world, like good bread, that are just too good to last forever.
 photo file_zps1afebc5c.jpg

Life is beautifully and painfully short. Although it’s painful to know that Jad’s 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.

Let’s make bread while we still can.

Mini walnut baguettes

makes 15 – 16 pieces

adapted from King Arthur Flour’s baguette recipe

For the starter:

  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon instant dry yeast
  • 1 cup bread flour

For the dough:

  • 1 teaspoon instant dry yeast
  • 1 cup to 1 1/4 cup lukewarm water
  • 1 starter recipe
  • 3 1/2 cups bread flour
  • 1 – 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnutes
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

In a medium-sized container, combine all the ingredients for the starter and mix. Allow it to rise and bubble at room temperature for 14 hours. 

When ready to make the bread, to the starter, add in the water, olive oil and brown sugar. Mix together.

In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients for the dough. Make a well at the center and add the starter mixture. Mix together. If you’re using an electric mixer, handle it with the dough hook. Otherwise, knead it by hand, until it starts to become smooth. Let the dough rest in a generously floured bowl for 20 minutes. Resting it will relax the gluten more, hence cuts down on fermentation time later. Afterwards, knead until dough is smooth and supple. Place the dough back into the bowl and allow it to rise for 45 minutes, or until the dough feels airy when lightly poked (it may be less than 45 minutes). Afterwards, to remove some of the gas that has formed, “fold” the dough by bringing/folding the top part to the center, then doing the same with the sides, then folding the top part towards and over the bottom. Let the dough ferment for another 30 minutes.

When done and if you’re going to add the nuts, knead it now then press down on the dough, and roll it like a log. Divide it into around 40-gram pieces. Shape each piece into a rough ball and let it rest for 5 to 10 minutes. Then shape each piece into a roll by flattening the ball, folding the bottom part towards the center, then doing the same with the top part, then finally folding the top over the bottom. Seal the seam by flattening it with your palm. Then roll it into a tapered log, with both edges slightly slimmer than the center. Transfer it to a baking sheet with a silicone parchment. Lightly dust each piece with flour. Allow it to rise for 20 to 30 minutes. It’s best to place them in the oven when they’re not completely proofed, because they rise more in the oven. While the bread is rising, preheat the oven to 220 C.

With a sharp paring knife, diagonally slash (“score”) each log 3 times (because baguettes have odd numbered slashes). Lightly dust with flour again, then place it in the oven. Prepare an aluminum tray with some water and place it below the rack where you’re going to place the baguette. The steam with help the bread rise. My oven came with a detachable tray placed at the bottom of the oven that’s supposed to catch drippings, so I used that. As soon as I placed the trays of bread in the oven, I poured water on the tray and that became my steam source.

Bake for 25 – 30 minutes or until a nice golden color is achieved. 

Clarity

Those who know me well know that I have really bad vision. So it’s been that way for as long as I can remember – I need to reach for my crutch just so I won’t fumble or fall. I literally cannot function with either my glasses or my contact lenses. Taking it off means plunging into a world for literal blur and bokeh.

In a way I’ve learned to love this dysfunction, this quirk that not a lot of people can appreciate. People are surprised to see how thick my glasses are, and I have yet to meet somebody whose vision is as bad, or worse than mine. But I know you’re out there, so drop me a line, yeah?

Eugene told me one time that probably the reason why I take nice intentionally blurred out shots is because what you see in my photos is literally what I see when I take away my crutch. I admit, it’s a beautiful sight.

I’ve realized that it’s fun to pepper posts with an eclectic mix of crisp and blurry shots. More and more I get to redefine my aesthetic. I’d like to believe that sometimes, it’s when things aren’t so crystal clear that the stories are sharper, details are more defined and the message is clearer.

Or maybe that’s just fluff.

 photo file_zps81855876.jpg
 photo file_zps13b22280.jpg
 photo file_zps03ad1128.jpg
 photo file_zps4726dad8.jpg
 photo file_zps9bc3c549.jpg

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.
 photo 954841_441495969279123_1225015589_n_zps3b7c8993.jpg
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).
 photo file_zpsf0e8707c.jpg
 photo file_zps69ffb299.jpg