Pancakes with Caramelized Carrots

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I had a dream.

Sadly, there was nothing about human rights. Not even the RH Bill. It involved a plate of pancakes and an “almost butterscotch” sauce. I call it “almost butterscotch” because I vividly remember that there was no cream involved. Glazed with the liquid gold that is the mixture of sugar and butter, were thin slices of carrots. Carrots. Then I woke up and I was so hungry.

I dreamt about it a few weeks ago, even before I started cooking school. It was around the time my blog celebrated its first year of existence. During that time, being with the people from The Maya Kitchen for half a day probably had a hand at shaping the course my slumber. They were generous enough to give me a swag bag of their products to boot!

Then there I was this morning, having been woken up by the noise of my phone. It was my mom, reminding me that it was her and dad’s anniversary today. She apparently bought a cake and made it look like it came from me. I didn’t raise a single cent. I love my mom and dad. (Happy anniversary folks!)

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But what the heck, I thought. Today was the perfect day to make my dreams come true (HAHAHA CORNY! forgive me). I had a few carrots chilling in the fridge, and a few perfectly portioned pancake mixes from Maya. Although the key here is convenience, making your own pancakes from scratch is also rewarding, especially if you wake up feeling like a boss.

And let me address the issue that might be swirling in your head right now – “why the hell would I put carrots on top of my pancakes?” Well, ye of little faith, give this a shot. Despite being laden with butter and sugar, I used coconut sugar which is great for diabetics. Since it makes sense to eat carrot cake, why can’t it make sense to eat pancakes with carrots? I could go on and on, but I’m taking too much of your time. Just go ahead and make this already!

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Pancakes with Caramelized Carrots (serves 2 – 3)
  • 1 medium-sized carrot, peeled and sliced thinly
  • 1 200-gram pack instant whole wheat pancake mix (I used Maya Kitchen) or make your own buttermilk pancakes and just add oats!
  • 4 – 5 tablespoons coconut sugar (or: use dark brown sugar)
  • 1/4 cup butter (a quarter of a regular sized butter block)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • a pinch of salt
  1. Cook the pancakes according to package instructions. When done, set aside.
  2. Make the caramelized carrots: combine the butter and sugar in a small bowl/pan over really low heat. Allow the butter and sugar to melt and stir everything together. Add the carrot slices.
  3. Cook the carrots in the butter and sugar over low heat for around 3 – 5 minutes. If the butter or sugar starts to show signs of burning, remove it from the heat source or make sure that it’s cooking over really low heat. (I didn’t have this problem but it’s good to be careful)
  4. Add the vanilla extract and the salt. Mix well. When done, top the carrots and the sauce over the pancakes. Serve warm and enjoy!

Cream Cheese Mac & Cheese

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I think this simmering obsession started with a little plastic cup of instant mac and cheese mix. It was microwavable and ready in 3 minutes. I thought it tasted okay, nothing special, but since I didn’t have a benchmark for really really good macaroni and cheese, I didn’t really rely on first impressions.

I called it a “simmering” obsession because sometimes I scour recipes for inspiration, at the back of my head this image of that little plastic cup of microwavable mac and cheese always rears its ugly head. Sometimes I find myself in the middle of dinner, wishing I was eating macaroni and cheese instead. I know, it sounds strange coming from me, because I’m never one to regret dinner, unless I’m served liver of course.
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I’ve been going over recipes back and forth, knowing that there were still a few blocks of cream cheese sitting in the fridge almost ready to expire unless I make good use of them. There was an internal debate going on inside my head on whether I should cook the macaroni in the cheese sauce, or cook them separately then put it all together in the end. I decided on the latter, knowing too well my misfortune with under-cooked pasta. New Year’s Eve of 2011 saw me in the kitchen, pouring water every 10 minutes on a baking dish full of raw lasagna noodles which refused to cook, God knows why (because I’m an idiot probably). I learned my lesson and hopefully I’ll pass that little nugget of wisdom to my children, and they’ll pass it on the theirs, and so on, and so on. Of course google works, too.
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Anyway, I still had to google if Eden cheese is a universal Kraft product. Unfortunately, I think it’s not because it’s tailored for Filipino consumption. But don’t fret, I’d like to believe this is a standard recipe that welcomes substitutions – just don’t skip the cream cheese!

I would’ve liked this to have more cheese sauce, because c’mon, who doesn’t appreciate a lot of sauce? But as soon as it came out of the oven, I knew this would be good, and I was right. Dig in, and for good measure, help yourself to seconds and thirds. Well, I did.
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Cream Cheese Mac & Cheese (serves 6 – 8)

  • 300 grams macaroni
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup reserved starchy water used to cook the macaroni
  • ¾ cup grated Eden cheese
  • 1 225g bar cream cheese, softened and cubed
  • ½ tablespoon prepared mustard
  • Grated mozzarella cheese, for topping

Boil water in a pot. Add a little bit of vegetable oil, and a generous sprinkling of salt. Add the macaroni, and cook according to package directions. Stir occasionally to prevent pieces from sticking to the bottom. Reserve 1 cup of the starchy water for later use. Drain the macaroni and set aside.

In a saucepan, melt butter. Add the flour and stir everything together until a thick cohesive paste is formed (the roux). Add the milk and the water. Season it with salt and pepper. Stir until it thickens.

Add the mustard, Eden cheese, and most of the cream cheese. Save a few tiny cubes for topping. Mix everything together over low heat and allow the cheeses to melt. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180C.

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resist the urge to eat it straight from the pot

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It will be a thing of beauty

Carefully add in the macaroni, mixing everything to coat it with the sauce.Pour everything on a baking pan, and top it with mozzarella and dot it with the tiny cream cheese cubes.

Bake it in the oven for 15 – 20 minutes or until cheese is bubbling and caramel brown specks have started to appear.

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See?

Remove from oven and allow to cool for a few minutes. Serve warm and enjoy!

New England Clam Chowder

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There’s just something about the taste of clam soup that hits the spot. It doesn’t need a lot of coaxing to get the distinct flavor out of the clams – the rich flavor of the sea ignites the bones. My city is a city that gets to supply the rest of the country with canned sardines, since fishermen have direct access to the sea. Clams, along with a variety of fish and shellfish are always abundant in the seafood markets.

I like my clams baked, or made into a simple soup with tomatoes, kangkong or chili leaves. But last Sunday, for mother’s day, I decided to go the extra mile and make it into a chowder – “New England” Clam Chowder.
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The main difference between New England and Manhattan Clam Chowder is the cooking liquid used. New England uses cream or milk to flavor the clam broth, while Manhattan uses tomato sauce. One of my favorite restaurants serves this really delicious seafood chowder that carries the strong flavor of clam, and Mother’s Day was the perfect excuse to relive the taste again.

This isn’t really ‘New England’ to the letter because I didn’t have the crackers to thicken this. But adding bread crumbs to thicken this more can be a good idea…in the same way I like my lechon sauce really thick. Lechon. Lechon. God I’m hungry again. I’ll probably have my fill of lechon soon, but for now, I’m happy remembering the moment I had the first spoonful of the finished product. It was immaculate.
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Clam Chowder (serves 5 – 6)

Feel free to thicken it more with crackers, cornstarch, flour or even bread crumbs. This has a hint of thickness thanks to the flour but it doesn’t tread the lines of being gravy-ish, which I really like. 

  • 30 pieces clams, scrubbed and cleaned
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 large white onions, cubed
  • 4 – 5 medium-sized potatoes, sliced into small cubes
  • 2 medium-sized carrots, sliced into small cubes
  • 5 tablespoons flour
  • 1  piece hungarian sausage, sliced, then each slice halved
  • 6 – 7 cups water
  • 1 300g can cream (I used Nestle)
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • sliced spring onions for garnish
  1. In a large stockpot over medium heat, add the oil and butter and allow it to melt.
  2. Add the onions and sauté until limp. Add the carrots and potatoes. Mix well and sauté for around 3 – 4 minutes. Sprinkle in the flour and mix well.
  3. Add the water, and season with salt and pepper. Cover and allow to simmer, for about 8 – 10 minutes.
  4. When the water is beginning to boil, lower the heat and add the cream. Mix well. Add the hungarian sausage.
  5. Add the clams and cover so the clams can cook, around 3 – 5 minutes.
  6. Taste and season with salt and pepper if needed.
  7. When the potatoes and carrots are cooked through, remove from heat. Serve in individual bowls and garnish with spring onions. Enjoy!

Honey and Walnut Biscuits

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Who doesn’t love weekends? Introduce to me a person who loves to relish at the thought of Sundays becoming Mondays, and I’ll…..drop my jaw. Not really, but the point is, it’s only during the weekend that most of the family and I get to be under the same roof, caught up in our own little worlds, but at least we’re together.

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I can imagine these biscuits could be great conversation starters:

For one, grandma might say, “biskwit ba ito?, dol hinde man” (“Is this a biscuit? It doesn’t seem like one”).

Then I would go on about how this is technically, a biscuit in the most literal sense.

Then uncle would say, “hindi man crispy” (“It’s not crispy”)

Then I would reinforce what I’ve already been talking about.

Then little cousin would butt in, sniff it and say, “akala ko cookie” (“I thought these were cookies”)

Then I’ve had enough: “FINE, I’LL MAKE A GODDAMN COOKIE NEXT TIME!!!!!” No, I didn’t really scream that. This conversation didn’t really happen in real life. I played it all out in my head because that’s what the voices have been telling me.
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But that’s not to say these aren’t delicious. On the contrary, I can’t get enough of these biscuits. It just means I’ve never had a proper biscuit before. The closest thing I had, was probably a Pillsbury ready-mix that was baked in a toaster oven and had a crunchy exterior.

But after digging around, I found out I didn’t really commit any grave error. These aren’t the digestive biscuits which you might know of, hence it isn’t supposed to be crispy/crunchy. The operational definition for these little ones would have to be “a small quick bread made from dough that has been rolled out and cut or dropped from a spoon”. It’s called a quickbread because it doesn’t require yeast to rise; only baking powder/soda. It’s like a scone, not that I’ve ever had a scone before.
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The best way I can describe the sensation of eating this would be that it’s like biting into a denser version of puff pastry, with a cake-y character, but still very buttery because the dough required minimal work. The reason why puff pastries ‘puff’ is because the dough is not overworked to the point of creating a paste.

It means that there are still butter pieces and when it gets hot enough, the butter melts and forms air pockets, creating a “puff” in between dough layers.
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These aren’t perfect. It’s more like a starting point for me because I’d like to see the dough “rise” some more, beyond the semblance of a flat cookie, but not to the point of it being mistaken for a mini mutant pan de sal. The original recipe didn’t require adding walnuts, but I think walnuts make everything better with their buttery, “melt-in-your-mouth” texture.
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Honey and Walnut Biscuits (makes 14 – 16 three inch in diameter biscuits; adapted from Beti Vanilla)

A real treat is to bite into the baked walnut topping, which melts in your mouth like butter because it’s been baked. Of course, the biscuits are great too! 

  • 2 cups flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/2 cup/ 1 stick cold unsalted butter
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup shelled walnuts, roughly crushed/chopped, plus more for garnish
  1.  Preheat the oven to 420 F/ 215 C. Cut the butter into small cubes. Line a cookie sheet with a silicone mat or baking paper.
  2.  In a bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and cream of tartar.
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  3. Using a pastry cutter (you can also use a fork or a food processor), cut in the butter with the flour mixture, until coarse lumps have formed.
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  4. Add the milk, walnuts and honey, stir just until everything comes together. Do not overmix or else the biscuits will turn out hard. You will want tiny specks of butter.
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  5. Roll the dough with a rolling pin to about 1/2 inch thickness and cut with cookie cutters.
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  6. Place in the prepared pan and lightly brush them with milk. Garnish each biscuit with a piece of walnut. Bake it in the oven at 420 F/215 C for 15 minutes, or until the top is golden brown.

Grilled Cheese Pandesal Sandwich

Look away if you’re dieting, or believe that a person should stick to the 2000 calories/day mark, because what I made today, isn’t just 2000 calories. I’m not a dietician (though I did get really good grades in Nutrition when I was a sophomore in college), but I just know, these grilled cheese sandwiches are heavy and loaded.

Butter/margarine + (cheese * 3)  + bread = lots of calories.
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But don’t fret, If you’re like me, you won’t make it to two sandwiches. I surprised even myself. A bite or two will satisfy you, eating a whole sandwich is practically a foodgasm. Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that these are pretty good. This isn’t really about a recipe, more of a technique (says Chef John of Food Wishes who I got this from). He calls it an “Inside-and-Out Grilled Cheese Sandwich” because, apart from the melted cheese filling, he goes the extra mile by sprinkling grated cheese on the frying sandwich and it consequently melts to form this really great tangy crust. God, I’m hungry again.
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This is the inexpensive (read:cheap) version of his sandwich because it uses three local ingredients: margarine, pan de sal and the run-of-the-mill grocery cheese (like Eden).  Of course, just because the ingredients may have been scaled down to cheaper proportions doesn’t make it any less tasty. By all means, since this is more of a technique, throw caution to the wind and splurge.
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I wouldn’t recommend making this a daily habit, but on the day that you do decide to make this (seeing as the ingredients you probably have lying around in your fridge and pantry already), well, consider it a special day.
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Inside and Out Grilled Cheese Pandesal Sandwich (adapted from Food Wishes)

  • Grated cheese (whatever cheese you have lying around, but Chef John advocates cheddar)
  • Pandesal, sliced in half
  • A few tablespoons butter or margarine (DO NOT USE STAR MARGARINE, because it’s too salty; use butter/margarine with a more mellow flavor)
  1. Heat a few tablespoons of butter in a nonstick (only use nonstick) pan over low to medium heat.
  2. Place the pandesal, two cut pieces at a time with cut/inside part facing upward. Flatten it a bit with your spatula.
  3. Generously sprinkle grated cheese over one piece. Then top with the other piece.
  4. Gently and generously sprinkle additional cheese on top of the sandwich. Add more butter to the pan if needed.
  5. Carefully flip the sandwich so the top with the cheese is now frying at the bottom. Flatten it a bit more with your spatula to evenly brown the cheese crust.
  6.  Repeat the process of sprinkling with cheese, flipping and frying so the lightly browned crust forms on both sides.
  7.  When sufficiently browned, remove from heat and serve immediately. Enjoy!

Apple Cake with Apple and Streusel Topping

Last night I was busy perusing through recipes I might try for today. Because I knew we had a few apples stored in the crisper since Christmas 2011, there was the frantic need to get rid of most of it, or else the lot might just go rotten. I thought about perfecting my apple pie, since my first attempt at pie didn’t turn out so well. Then I thought about cupcakes, but since we didn’t have any cupcake liners left, I scratched that out as well. Then I thought about poaching the apples in liquor, and I was dead-set on doing it. But the nagging feeling that today would be the day I would bake my first cake kept bothering me until I caved in and well….made. my. first. cake. And yeah, this far from a chocolate cake.
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The original recipe didn’t call for shredded apples in the batter. I looked at the recipe and I was afraid that the cake would turn out plain without anything to up the batter’s ante. Well, that’s just my excuse so I could use up all the Granny Smiths we had. But I thought adding shredded apples was genius.

This is a really dense cake. Probably because the recipe didn’t call for baking soda and vinegar. But it was still really good. This has essentially three layers: the cake, the apple topping and the streusel.
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The recipe had me at streusel. Because I haven’t perfected frosting a cupcake, let alone a cake, a streusel is a good, probably even better alternative. Instead of buttercream or cream cheese frosting, I like topping cupcakes with streusel, which is a mixture of flour, butter, sugar and sometimes nuts. It forms a light, sweet, crusty topping that complements the flavors of the apples. Sure I might pounce on frosting in the future, but right now it’s streusel, baby.
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Although I’m a butcher that lacks the finesse of peeling and removing the apple cores, I think I did a pretty good job at the apple topping. But the funny thing is, the streusel covered all of it up. I made a mental note of drizzling, not dumping, it with streusel next time.
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I did run into a hitch though: because the cake is dense, the wax paper along the sides couldn’t support the whole thing while I was trying to lift it up. Now I was stuck with the problem of removing the cake from the pan without ruining it. I did eventually coax it out by slicing the cake then individually removing the slices with a spatula.
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But I have to admit, that for my first attempt, the end product does look pretty darn good. Really good. (Are you out there? Do you agree?)
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What really gets me fascinated about the process of cake-making is how different proportions and techniques yield different results. Because this is a dense cake with a tight crumb, I’d like to explore the possibilities with different recipes. Yes Virginia, I’m a nerd, really.

I had more apples than I can use, so I thought about caramelizing the remaining slices with pineapple juice. It was a great accompaniment to the cake. Take that, whipped cream.
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One final important note:today I doubled the streusel recipe and I got more than enough crumbs to top the cake with. Hence, a thick streusel layer. I suggest you start with the recipe given below, then double the ingredient proportions for the streusel if you think it’s not enough.
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“Let them eat cake!”

Apple Cake with Apple and Streusel Topping + Caramelized Apple Slices (adapted from Joy of Baking; serves 8 – 10)

Streusel Topping:

  • 1/2 cup (65 grams) all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3 tablespoons (40 grams) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1/4 cup (70 grams) brown sugar

Cake Batter:

  • 2 cups (260 grams) all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon iodized salt
  • 1/2 cup (112 grams) (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup (200 grams) granulated white sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup (160 ml) milk
  • ¼ teaspoon allspice
  • ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 large Granny Smith apple, coarsely shredded using a cheese grater
  • 2 large Granny Smith Apples, peeled, cored, and cut into thin (1/8 inch) slices for topping, submerged in a bowl with pineapple juice (240ml/1 can) Slice an apple in half lengthwise, then cut each in piece in half. Continue the process until you arrive at 1/8th inch slices. 
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (177 degrees C).  Grease (with butter or shortening) a 9 inch pan and line the bottom and sides of the pan with parchment paper. Grease the lined bottom and sides as well.
  2. Streusel Topping:
      1. In a large bowl, mix together the flour and ground cinnamon.
      2. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender or fork until it resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in the brown sugar. Set aside while you make the cake batter.
  3. Cake Batter:
      1.  In a separate bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
      2. In the bowl of your electric mixer (I used a hand mixer), with the paddle attachment, beat the butter until creamy and smooth.
      3.  Add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy.
      4. Add the egg and vanilla extract and beat until incorporated. Add the allspice and ginger.
      5. Add the flour mixture, alternately with the milk, and beat only until combined.
      6. Spread the batter into the bottom of the prepared pan, smoothing the top with a spatula.
  4. Evenly arrange the apple slices on top of the cake batter and then sprinkle with the streusel topping.
  5. Bake for about 45 -50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool slightly.
  6. Serve warm or at room temperature with vanilla ice cream or softly whipped cream.