Absolute Best Brownies

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I was a bit skeptical. When people pin the words “absolute”, “best”, “ultimate”, “the best you’ll ever have. Ever(!!!!)” to the names of certain recipes, it piques your interest. You wonder if these recipe testers and bloggers are so ecstatic about this recipe that they just need to call their recipe “the best ever”. Or maybe it’s all just BS, because the benchmark isn’t at all clear-cut and objective. But it’s worth a shot. There’s that shred of genuine hope, that what you have before you is in fact, the best recipe out there.

I’m talking about these brownies, which could have been prettier had I baked the batter in the right pan. I got this recipe from Joey of 80breakfasts, a food blog that I’ve been following for a while now. I’ve never made brownies before and I thought it made sense that I begin with a recipe that probably has solid credibility (she got it from David Lebovitz after all).
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I’ve always been on the fence with brownies. I thought I’ve tasted it all: from the mercilessly rock hard to the uncharacteristically cake-y. I was wrong. I haven’t tasted this one. Now my benchmark for a good brownie has definitely been raised: it should be amazingly fudge-y (uh,duh). This recipe ticks all the right boxes. It deserves to have a superlative in its name.

The only copout was that I didn’t use premium ingredients (hey, I’m broke!). But at least I have something to look forward to when I do get my hands on real butter and fancy chocolate!
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Robert’s Absolute Best Brownies

(recipe taken with slight modifications from 80breakfasts; original recipe by David Lebovitz from his book Ready For Dessert)

  • 3 ounces (around 3/4 of a stick) unsalted or salted butter, cut into pieces, plus more for the pan
  • 8 ounces/226 grams bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 cup nuts, toasted and coarsely chopped (I wanted to add walnuts but I didn’t have any on hand)
  1. Line the inside of an 8-inch square pan with 2 lengths of parchment, allowing for excess to extend beyond the edges of the pan (this is how you will pull the brownies out later). Lightly butter the parchment. I used an 8×12 inch baking pan, which probably makes a thinner spread, and consequently, baking time is varied. 
  2. In a medium saucepan over low heat, melt the butter. Add the chocolate and stir by hand until it is melted and smooth.
  3. Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the sugar and vanilla until combined. Beat in the eggs by hand, one at a time.
  4. Add the flour and stir energetically for one full minute. (Accordingly “…this is important so time yourself. The batter is supposed to lose its graininess in this time, becoming smooth and glossy, and pull away a bit from the sides of the saucepan.”) After that, stir in the chopped nuts.
  5. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake in a pre-heated 350F/180C oven until the center feels almost set, about 30 minutes. Do not overbake. IMPORTANT: Since I used a different sized pan (8×12), mine baked for about 20 – 25 minutes  
  6. Let the brownie cool completely in the pan (be patient!) before lifting the parchment and the brownie out of the pan. I give it an extra window of time to cool out of the pan as well. Cut the brownie into squares.

Blueberries and Cream Graham “Bars”

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Here in the Philippines, there’s this easy and inexpensive dessert called Mango Float/Mango Royale that every self-respecting homemaker probably knows how to make. My mom swears it was my aunt/her sister-in-law who shared the recipe, and when my mom first made it at home, my little 8-year old self swore it was the best dessert ever created.

It was refreshingly simple. A pyrex is filled with alternating layers of graham crackers, cream and slivers of mangoes, then it’s put in the freezer for a few hours, after which, you have a great way to cap off any meal. It’s sometimes too decadent that it can hold its own, without being an accompaniment to a meal. But I’m not complaining. I rarely get to eat it now, because I’m always afraid I might get tonsillitis if I go overboard.
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The dessert is almost too ubiquitous that I don’t really think posting it here would count as something special. And we didn’t have mangoes. There are variations of the ‘float’ – using canned fruit cocktail, peaches, and in my case, blueberry pie filling. The pie filling has been pitifully sitting at the back of our pantry probably since we moved in, more than a year ago. Or more, who knows? But it wasn’t going to go bad yet, and my mom has been prodding me to make something with the graham crackers that she bought.

It’s strange that making this made me think of making it with mangoes instead. Maybe because it’s more luscious and festive. I’m not saying this recipe is bad, of course! All I’m saying is, if mango float was summer, then this would be autumn. And as much as I’d like to imagine myself jumping in the foliage…autumn is nonexistent in the tropics.

And as for the title, well, this was just my attempt at being original. I think it didn’t work. (haha)

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Blueberries and Cream Graham “Bars”

  • 20 pieces graham crackers (1 pack usually has 20 pieces)
  • 3 cups all-purpose cream
  • 1/2 cup condensed milk
  • 1 21-ounce can blueberry pie filling
  1. In a bowl, mix together the cream and condensed milk. Add the blueberry pie filling and mix well. Set aside.
  2. In an 8 by 11.5 by 2 inch pan, assemble the first layer of graham crackers at the bottom. Add the cream, enough to create a half an inch tall layer on the top the graham crackers. Top with another layer of graham crackers. Repeat the process until you reach the top.
  3. Place it in the freezer (make sure your pan is freezer safe) for a few hours or until the cream has solidified. You can also opt to just chill it in the refrigerator instead. Slice into bars when serving and enjoy!

Scones!

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Because I can’t think of biscuits without thinking about scones, I made scones today. I don’t know, I just woke up with this mad craving that I had to satisfy.
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Scones are a type of quickbread ( like biscuits) that are English in origin. Basically quickbreads don’t need yeast, hence the name. The only scones that I’ve ever tried are the ones I made a few days ago, so I’m a novice. I don’t even know what to look for in taste and texture – but I sure did enjoy eating it. The end product is cake-y and chewy – I admit, I think I overworked the batter a bit, but in my defense that’s probably the only way I can really learn restraint.

Honey and walnut have been my go-to flavor combination that blends with the scones perfectly. In my head, even if I don’t know what a proper scone should taste like…I’m looking for that texture akin to puff pastry, meaning, I’d like to see scone slightly flaky, like these, where I got the recipe from.

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I’m still looking for a recipe that knocks my socks off in epic proportions. But these were good, really good.
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Scones (makes at least eight pieces; adapted from here)

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 4 tablespoons honey
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 cup fresh milk
  • ½ cup walnuts
  1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper
  2. Whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt together in a large bowl. Add the butter and walnuts and use a pastry cutter to cut it into the dry ingredients – keep working it until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
  3. Add the milk and use a fork (or your hands) to gently bring the mixture together. There may still be a few dry bits in the bottom of the bowl, that’s fine.
  4. Turn the dough out onto your work surface and divide it in half. Gently shape each piece into a disk about 1/2-inch thick. Like a pie, cut each disk into 4 or 6 pieces, depending on how big you want your scones – I did six.
  5. Transfer the scones to the prepared baking sheet. (You can bake the scones immediately, but I like to refrigerate or freeze mine briefly so the butter is really cold when it hits the oven. – THG did this)
  6. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the scones begin to turn golden brown around the edges and are slightly firm to the touch.
  7. Transfer the baking sheet to a wire rack and let the scones cool for a few minutes before removing them to the rack to cool completely. Drizzle with honey and more walnuts. 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.

Ice Candy Duo: Lemonade & Milk Tea

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I had a lot of vivid memories growing up, spending lazy days at home, far far from the clutches of school – watching Dink The Little Dinosaur, flying kites with my dad, playing “tumbahang lata” with the neighbors’ kids, starting an aquarium more than once, all of which ended in massive extinction, and a particularly graphic scene of a little calamansi fruit, literally frying with the juice boiling on the concrete, under the scorching heat of the sun. Yes, summers are more fun in the Philippines.

My childhood summers are one of the sweetest moments of the life, particularly because I didn’t like going to school, and there was always something to do at home or outside. That was the good life. I didn’t care for anything else, except that I wanted to have fun. Going back to school  takes those golden moments away. It’s also a part of life (and a fact) that growing up pushes these memories aside, making room for new priorities, interests, and even friends.
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Moving on to happy thoughts…

Judging by the heat, the scorching  summer has definitely arrived. When I was growing up, summer also meant that ICE CANDY season has also arrived. Ice Candy, is basically any refreshing liquid of your choice, poured into thin, flimsy plastic ‘wrappers’ specifically made for ice candy, tied up and frozen. That’s it.
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How is it supposed to be eaten? You bite into and tear off a little piece of plastic from the bottom, then suck away. The heat from your hands will begin to melt the ice, and it’s a venerable treat to relish the liquid that’s slowly dancing in between liquid and solid. I can’t get any better than that.

Because I was a wee fledgling when the ice candy craze kicked in, making it involved teamwork. I would pour the liquid into the wrapper, and my Mama Eng would tie it all up and place it in the freezer. Sometimes, the neighborhood kids would help out as well. We’re tight like that. Then we would sell it for 1 peso a pop. One summer, the craze was so popular, every single household in our extension was selling ice candy! A classic ice candy flavor would have to be Milo. Fruits juices only ranked second.
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This month would mark my first attempt at joining Kulinarya Club’s monthly theme activity. I received confirmation of my membership around mid-February, and I’ve been looking forward to taking crack at the March theme: ice candy (thanks to Jun of Jun-Blog and Arnold of Inuyaki for this stroke of brilliance).

I put my own spin to this oldie-but-goodie by showcasing two flavors that I’ve fallen in love with recently: lemonade and milk tea.
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I’m not really a calamansi juice person, though I won’t mind if it’s liberally drizzled over a plate of palabok. There’s just something…cleaner and fresher about the smell and taste of lemons that takes me away from the humidity and unforgiving heat of the day. My mom’s lemonade ratio really hits the spot each and every time – the flavor of the tart lemons and the sweet sugar marries perfectly. I can finish a pitcher in one day.
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Milk tea has been a growing trend here in the Philippines and I’ve had my fair share of it over the past few months. But I’m proud to say that among the milk teas that I’ve tasted, Zamboanga’s own Zensonita (Zen-son-night-ta) is one of the best in my book. It shares the top spot with Gong Cha. That says a lot. Zensonita is unpretentious and serves it like it is, no gimmicks, no frills. Visit their store along Nunez extension and order all three bestsellers: original, tarik and strawberry. I tried to replicate their original flavor – basic black tea with a slurry of fresh and condensed milk.

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And as the song goes: “summertime, and the livin’ is easy”. Ice candy might as well be the songwriter’s muse, maybe even the perfect symbol.

Ice Candy Duo

Lemonade

  • 6 cups  cold water
  • 3 – 4 lemons
  • 3/4 cup granulated white sugar

Mix everything in a pitcher and allow to chill in the refrigerator.

Milk Tea

  • 4 cups water
  • 3 bag black tea
  • 1/3 – 1/2 cup fresh milk
  • 1/2 cup condensed milk, or more to taste
  1. Boil water in a pot over medium heat. Once boiled, remove from heat and add the tea bags. Allow to steep for 10 – 15 minutes or until a strong tea flavor is achieved. When done, remove tea bags. When cooled, transfer the tea to a pitcher.
  2. Mix the fresh and condensed milk together in a small bowl or cup. Add to the tea and mix well. Adjust the taste to your preference.

Make the ice candy:

  1. If you’re working alone, it’s best to have a mug/cup with you. Place the plastic tubes/wrappers inside the mug with prop it in such a way that it’s resting on the rim of the mug/cup.Photobucket
  2. Use a small funnel to pour the liquid in, filling the wrapper a little over halfway to 3/4ths full. Take the excess plastic and tightly twist it to compress the liquid inside. Use your fingers to roll the excess plastic until it’s toothpick-thin, so it will be easier to twist.Photobucket
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  3. Twist the excess plastic around your finger, and loop it around to make a knot. Repeat the process until you have your desired number. Freeze until firm and enjoy!Photobucket

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    The 3rd one from the left is what you'll get when you won't twist the excess plastic enough

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No-Bake Cheesecake

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Baby steps. That’s what I told myself when I finally found a recipe for cheesecake that I was willing to try. Well, that’s what I tell myself every time I want to attempt another dish that requires skill, more than anything else. The thing is sometimes telling myself I need to take baby steps means I’m also leaving the door wide open for procrastination. Which happens a lot, when you’re me.

Cheesecake has been something I’ve always wanted to attempt. I remember, before we even had an oven (we finally bought a functional oven, along with building a new house, just a year ago), I would put together cream cheese, whipped cream and canned blueberries on a pie plate and call it cheesecake. I didn’t know better.

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I told myself I would finally start making a proper cheesecake once I had the proper equipment. The biggest revelation that I had? Cheesecake can be baked (Didn’t know that before!). The possibilities were seemingly endless.

Then we flash forward to the present time, where I can actually look back at all the attempts at it over the past few months. You read that right, past few months. Now, why did I never post anything about it here before? Well, let me count the ways:

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1. The first attempt was decent and tasted like ice cream, according to my friends. I wouldn’t know, I had tonsillitis. That happened over the holidays; I loathed the world.

2. Second attempt was for Valentines Day; I made it for no one in particular. As soon as I poured the filling into the springform and hoisted the whole thing up to put in the oven, the detachable bottom of the pan failed me. I had crust and filling running down my arms. Disgusting, really.

3. Vindication came when I finally made my best ever Red Velvet Cupcakes with cream cheese and streusel. Food Frenzy even listed it as one of the most viewed recipes last February. Oh wait, a cupcake……..isn’t a cheesecake…..right?

4. Last Christmas I followed a cheesecake recipe to the letter. After diligently leaving it in the fridge to cool, slicing the whole thing revealed a runny center. I had to bake it again, and again, and again. Can you picture out a cheesecake that fell from the second floor (SPLAT!) and onto a serving pan – and then you bake it until it’s solid? Good, we’re on the same page.

Now here we are with cheesecake attempt # 5. And I must say I’m pretty pleased with the results. Creamy, surprisingly light cheesecake taste? Yes. Solid structure? Yes. A tasty topping? Yes.

The only cop-out? This isn’t baked. Yeah, cheesecake purists,  this is a no-bake cheesecake. No. Bake.

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The rationale for not baking it? For one, it’s relatively easier than baking. And most importantly, I don’t have to use my oven! You see, we’ve been having perennial power outages that last for around four hours per day, because apparently that’s what happens when you’re in a developing country. So, I managed to work my way around this little hitch.

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The taste has been balanced well – the slightly sharp taste of the cream cheese is tempered with the addition of whipped cream. This cheesecake is pretty heavy, so a moderate slice would go a long way. I’d say, this is a great way of exercising my chance at baby steps. But of course, I can’t wait to try the real deal next time. Successfully, I mean.

PS: As much as I want to blog about how I made dulce de leche, the idea of waiting two hours just to cook condensed milk in the oven, doesn’t appeal to me. The result of the waiting still yielded condensed milk, albeit just darker in color. Maybe I just need to refine the technique. If you want, just use condensed milk. But that’s just me at 21. Maybe me at 22 would be more appreciative. 

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Basic No-Bake Cheesecake (serves 12; adapted from The Best of Food Magazine)

crust

  • 12 – 14 graham crackers, crushed
  • 1/4 cup granulated white sugar
  • 1/2 cup melted butter

cheesecake

  • 2 tablespoons (around 2 sachets) unflavored gelatin (I used Knox)
  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • 2 bars (225 grams or 8 ounces each) cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup granulated white sugar
  • 1 cup (250 ml) whipped cream (I used all-purpose cream)
  • 1 cup (250 ml) yogurt or sour cream
  1. Combine crust ingredients in a medium bowl. Mix well. With the aid of a spoon, press onto the bottom of a 9 – inch springform pan, covering it completely. Chill in the refrigerator until ready to use.
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  2. In a saucepan, disperse the gelatin in water. Set aside for 5 minutes to allow the granules to swell.
  3. Place the saucepan over LOW heat, stirring continuously until gelatin granules have dissolved completely, taking care that it DOES NOT BOIL, because boiling weakens the gelatin structure. Once dissolved (it will resemble runny syrup), remove from heat and set aside.Photobucket
  4. If using all – purpose cream: in a medium sized bowl that has been chilled in the refrigerator, using you hand mixer with the whisk attachment, whisk cream until soft peaks form (when you lift the whisk afterwards, a “peak” forms on the surface of the cream)

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    those 'pointy' things are the 'peaks'

  5. In a large bowl of a stand mixer, or simply using your hand mixer with the whisk attachment, beat cream cheese until light and fluffy. You may use the same hand mixer whisk you used to beat the all-purpose cream. Add the sugar, whipped cream and sour cream.Photobucket
  6. Pour in the gelatin mixture into the cream cheese mixture. Continue to beat until smooth.
  7. Pour the mixture onto the prepared pan. Level the surface of the cheesecake with a spatula. Chill overnight. Serve as is, or with the topping of your choice. For the dulce de leche recipe, click here or herePhotobucket

Nutella and Chocolate Chip Bread Pudding

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For as long as I can remember, my mom and I were avid readers of Food Magazine. I’m not sure if it was the first of its kind in the country, but one thing was certain: it was the best. I was particularly glued to a column by its then editor-in-chief, called “Kiddie Cuisine” which showcases simple recipes designed for little hands in the kitchen. But most of the time when I was younger, I may or may not have let my mom do it and passed it off as my own.
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Food Magazine has grown over the years, with around two editorial board changes, but I’m glad that its first editor-in-chief, Norma Chikiamco, is still pretty much active in print, with her column appearing in the Lifestyle section of Philippine Daily Inquirer.

In one of her columns she shares a recipe for bread pudding which, according to her, is one of the best she has ever tried. It digresses from my usual take on bread pudding. For one, this recipe is more traditional in the sense that she doesn’t toast the bread. Toasting the bread gives it more texture and bite, which I like, but my mom doesn’t. And I was apprehensive at the amount of sugar the original recipe called for, because I’m always scared of making desserts too sweet.
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I tweaked this recipe a bit with the additional of NUTELLA, which has been my recent go-to, “out of the jar” snack when I’m craving for just one spoonful. Don’t judge. I essentially made nutella sandwiches using stale bread, sliced and shredded the bread into smaller chunks and allowed it to sit in the custard mixture.
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The result: a little too sweet for my taste, that’s why for this recipe I’ll put in the amount of sugar that I wish I could have used. But she was right – when allowed to cool for a while, but still very warm and toasty, it melts in your mouth like a custard, dripping with melted chocolate. Well, I’m not really a fan of chocolate if it’s not dark, so if you have a bar of your favorite dark chocolate on hand, use that instead of chocolate chips.
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I can imagine a better version of this that’s a notch lower in sweetness, peppered with melted dark chocolate. Nutella or no nutella, this is something special. Wait, I take that back, nutella makes everything more special.
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Nutella and Chocolate Chip Bread Pudding (Makes 12-16 servings; adapted from PDI Lifestyle)

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cup granulated white sugar
  • 6 eggs, slightly beaten
  • 3 1/2 cups fresh milk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup semisweet or dark chocolate chips/chunks
  • 16 – 18 slices day-old loaf bread
  • a jar of Nutella
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Lightly grease a 9” x 13” baking pan. Or, spray the pan with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. Spread nutella all over one sandwich slice and top with another slice. Repeat the process with all the slices. You will end up with 8 – 9 sandwichesPhotobucket
  3. Slice the sandwiches into smaller chunks, around 4 – 6 chunks per sandwich.Photobucket
  4. Using the whisk attachment of your electric mixer/hand mixer, “whisk” or “cream” the butter in a bowl. Add sugar, eggs, milk, vanilla extract and nutmeg.PhotobucketPhotobucket
  5. Arrange the sandwich chunks and the chocolate chips on the prepared pan.Photobucket
  6. Pour the milk mixture into the prepared baking pan.Photobucket
  7. Bake for one hour or until it turns solid and the top is golden brown and crusty.
  8. Let stand a few minutes before serving. Best served warm.

This is completely unrelated but important nonetheless. Let me just put it out there that The Hungry Giant is rooting for Jessica Sanchez to win it all on American Idol! I’m rooting for her not just because she’s Filipino as well, but really because she’s the best. She deserves to win!

If you’re American, and you love The Hungry Giant, then please, do me this really big favor and vote for Jessica Sanchez. You’ll love her too, well, if you haven’t already. It’ll be a total shame, not to mention an upset, if she doesn’t win. I know, I know, win or lose she has a bright career ahead of her but seeing her take the crown this year  would be a victory on so many levels. Please?

Sticky Toffee Pudding

I first heard of Sticky Toffee Pudding from Nigel Thornberry, you know, that guy from The Wild Thornberrys, one of the best Nickelodeon cartoons all time? I’m not sure who he was talking to, but I do remember a phrase from his dialogue, in his thick British accent, he said, “…faster than you can say sticky toffee pudding”. So I presume it sticky toffee pudding is an English dessert.
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Then I learned more about it when the Lifestyle Network aired a short reality show which pitted everyday American homemakers against each other to create “the new Häagen-Dazs ice cream flavor”, and by luck and taste would have it, the honor went to the genius who thought of “Sticky Toffee Pudding”.
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A dessert from across the pond – it’s a moist cake studded with prunes or dates, then topped off with a toffee sauce like molten gold. I actually made my first batch of pudding (the British sometimes call a sweet dessert ‘pudding’, without specific references to a custard) more than a year ago, and I baked it in muffin tins. This time I used a 9 x 3 inch cake pan because it was my grandma’s birthday and I also baked her something sweet, since she doesn’t get a lot of it on a regular day.
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But to be completely honest I did have a few moments where I did give myself a facepalm. The last time I baked a cake, I did have an issue removing the wax paper – and the cake from the pan. In my defense flipping it over a plate was not a great idea since it was baked with a topping. This time however, I did have to make heads or tails on how to properly remove the cake, sans topping, from the pan. Because I was banking on my novice skills, I had a few moments of hesitation. I didn’t know handling a cake involved rocket science.

But I did get it out of the pan by first lifting it using the wax paper, then flipping it over so the flat, even bottom layer was on top. Youtube helped the poor fella out. Note to self: go to battle sufficiently prepared.
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The pudding is everything good in a dessert – moist and packed with flavor but not too sweet. The fact that you can drench it in a heavy toffee-like syrup is an incredible thing to see and taste. It really reminds me of  Food For The Gods, except that this is more dense like a cake. But either way, I don’t have to wait for the holidays to get my fix.  So far, this recipe has never failed me. And I believe this’ll be a nice addition to your range of recipes as well. Scratch that, not ‘nice’. Not even ‘good’. This is GREAT.
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Sticky Toffee Pudding (makes one round 9×3 inch cake; adapted from yummy.ph)

  • 1 1/4 cups dates
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk (In a pinch, I used fresh milk + 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar to make 1 cup buttermilk)

For the pudding sauce

  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose cream
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F/ 180 C. Using a pastry brush (or a brush that you exclusively use for cooking/basting), brush the inside of a round 9 x 3 inch baking pan with shortening/oil. Do not use butter. Line it with wax paper all the way up to and beyond the sides, so there is an “overhang”. A different method can be seen here and here. I might try it next time. Photobucket
  2. In a bowl, steep dates in 1 cup boiling water for 5 minutes. Drain and reserve 1/4 cup of the water. Pulse dates in a food processor until roughly chopped.Photobucket
  3. In a medium saucepan, melt together butter and sugar on medium heat.
  4. Remove from heat and allow to cool for 5 – 10 minutes. Mix in eggs one at a time. Stir immediately to incorporate the eggs. Transfer to a large bowl.Photobucket
  5. Mix in vanilla extract and dates.Photobucket
  6. In a separate bowl, whisk together all-purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Gradually add in to the egg and date mixture. Add the buttermilk, mixing until combined.Photobucket
  7. Transfer batter to cake pan and bake for 40 – 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.Photobucket
  8. Make the pudding sauce: In a saucepan over low heat, combine butter, brown sugar, and heavy cream, stirring constantly until smooth and slightly thickened. Spoon over pudding. Serve individually on dessert plates with more sauce. Enjoy!

Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cheesecake and Streusel Topping

If there’s one recipe that brings back a lot of great memories – it has to be Red Velvet cupcakes. This was probably one of the first recipes, the first cake/cupcake recipe that I tried with stellar results. It was around mid-March of last year that I made a really great Red Velvet, as a response to Julie Ruble of Willowbird Baking’s call for a cheesecake challenge. I made Cheesecake Stuffed Red Velvet cupcakes with Streusel, and that pretty much set the bar on how I want my Red Velvets.
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March last year was a great month for me. Coinciding with the production of these great cupcakes, I really started to solidify my love for cooking. The last few posts in my old blog were devoted to food. The pictures, though not as great as I wanted it to be, reminded me of the baby steps I was taking.

Last year, I had around two weeks without anything to do after my final exams, so I cooked while waiting for my graduation. Graduating with honors left me with an incomparable high that took time to abate. And I’m glad I had to review for my licensure exam and put my blog on hold because that just made me go into food blogging more determined to put myself out there. I said goodbye to my old blog and here I am, reincarnated so to speak.
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And personally, out of all the recipes on my blog, I’m really happy that I get to share this one the most because, well, I love it so much. It has been a long time coming.

No Red Velvet I’ve tasted so far comes close (immodesty aside; hey, I don’t brag a lot). This time, however, after much thought, I decided to not to use Julie’s recipe and use Ginny Roces’ Red Velvet recipe from her book, Bake Me A Cake. There are a few subtle differences between the two recipes, but I just really hoped Ginny’s red velvet recipe would be as good as Julie’s.
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The verdict: after increasing the amount of chocolate needed, I’m really pleased with the outcome. For those of you who have tried Julie’s recipe, this is just as good. For those who have yet to make a red velvet, well, this is a perfect recipe to pave way for a fruitful love affair with the little cake flavor that could.

Moist crumb, with the perfect hint of chocolate, this was another crowd pleaser.
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You can forego the streusel, but I just think that streusel + cream cheese + red velvet is the one. Everything is done for good measure after all. And seriously, this is something full of good measure.
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Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cheesecake and Streusel Topping (makes around 35 – 36 cupcakes OR two 9-inch round cakes; adapted from Bake Me A Cake by Ginny Roces de Guzman)

Cream Cheese Filling

  • 1 cup/ 8 ounces (227 grams) cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup (65 grams) granulated white sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Streusel
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter, cubed

Cupcakes/Cake

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/3 teaspoon salt
  • 3 – 4 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 cups butter (I used 1 cup/1 block butter AND 1/2 cup vegetable shortening)
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 1/2 cups evaporated milk
  • 2 tablespoons red food coloring (liquid, like McCormick)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  1. Make the cream cheese filling: In your electric mixer, or with a hand mixer, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add the sugar, egg, and vanilla extract and beat until creamy and smooth. Set aside in the refrigerator.
  2. Make the streusel: In a bowl, combine the ingredients together and mix well. Using a fork or a pastry cutter, “cut in” the butter pieces into the flour and sugar mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs. Set aside in the refrigerator.
  3. Make the cupcakes: preheat oven to 350 F/180 C. Line a 12-piece cupcake tin with paper cups/liners. If you’re baking cake, line two 9-inch round baking pans with wax or baking paper.
  4. Using a fine mesh strainer, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cocoa powder in a bowl.
  5. In a bowl, beat the butter with an electric mixer until light and creamy. Add the sugar gradually and continue to beat until light and fluffy, around 5 – 10 minutes. Add the eggs and the egg yolks one at a time, while continuing to beat until well mixed.
  6. Combine the evaporated milk, red food color, and vanilla in a bowl. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour mixture and milk alternately to the butter mixture. Scrape down the sides of the bowl to make sure the batter is thoroughly mixed.
  7. Pour the batter into the prepared tins, until halfway up the sides. Resist the urge to overfill. Using a tablespoon, add the cream cheese mixture on top.
  8. Two methods in adding the streusel: Method 1 – You may choose to add it immediately prior to baking. This partially melts the streusel and you are left with a few coarse crumbs on top (which is still pretty good). Put it in the oven and bake for 20 minutes, or when a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the center of the cupcake.
  9. Method 2 - After adding the cream cheese topping, place the pan into the oven and bake for around 5 – 7 minutes, or until the batter is beginning to rise. Remove from oven and sprinkle streusel over the batter. Return it to the oven and bake it for around 15 – 20 minutes more, until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the center of the cupcake. This will yield cupcakes with a more generous, prominent streusel topping. This is more taxing but if you’re after the streusel, then it’s really worth it.
  10. When done, remove from oven and allow to cool slightly. Serve warm or cold and enjoy!

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Dark Chocolate Panna Cotta

It wasn’t until I was about to step into the threshold of high school that I understood the meaning of clarity. Literal clarity.
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I didn’t have any epiphany that defined and changed the course of my life. What I did have was extremely poor vision. Looking back, I had no idea how I survived grade school with eyes that didn’t work properly. The earliest memory that I had where I began to experience problems was in first grade. Meaning, I went through my whole school-aged life with inconvenience. I was ashamed to tell anybody that there was something wrong because I thought it was inconceivable that a kid has to wear glasses. Glasses are for old people, I told myself.

But after years of struggle, when my parents, among other people, noticed my “squinting” (what I did to see clearer), I finally sought medical attention. It was there in the doctor’s clinic that my mom and I finally knew the real state of my vision. I was 12 years old, and my eyes had a grade of 600 – 700. My mom was in shock.
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Flash forward nine years later, and here I am, (a patron of contact lenses) fresh from my optometrist appointment. Apparently my eyesight isn’t getting any better, seeing as it’s now 850. But I learned to live with it. I actually enjoy watching people’s reactions when I tell them the grade of my shoddy eyesight. That I’ve found a way around my problem, found humor in it and moved on is something of an accomplishment.
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There’s also always a way to serve up a really simple and delicious dessert. After making panna cotta for a while now, I’ve realized that because of its simplicity, it has become my go-to dish to serve after a filling meal. Even more impressive is its simple presentation – I used little glass tea cups as the mold. Pretty darn fancy.

The name sounds fancy, but it’s just a mixture of egg and cream, held together by unflavored gelatin. There’s nothing complicated about that at all.
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Sure, it takes a while for the cream to set, but the end result is really worth it. Spoonful after spoonful of smooth, rich velvety custard hits the spot.

The aftermath of Valentines day left me with one last cup of panna cotta, which only differs from the first recipe I posted in that this one has chocolate in it. I really like the taste of dark chocolate, so this dish left me wanting more. But I know better, so a cup of moderate happiness works for me.
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Dark Chocolate Panna Cotta (serves 3 – 4)

  • 1 cup all-purpose cream
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 4 – 5 tablespoons dark chocolate powder (I used Hershey’s)
  • 2 tablespoons unflavored gelatin powder
  • 4 tablespoons hot milk (I just zapped mine in the microwave for a minute and ten seconds)
  1. In a saucepan, combine all-purpose cream, milk, chocolate and white sugar. Stir over low heat until sugar is dissolved and there are little to no more clumps of chocolate.
  2. Increase heat slightly and bring to a boil. Turn off heat and let stand for 15 minutes.
  3. Whisk gelatin powder in hot milk until dissolved. (Some recipes say to let the gelatin ‘bloom’ in the liquid by leaving it for a few minutes. I didn’t do this but I might as well next time)
  4. Stir in gelatin mixture to cream mixture; blend well. Strain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer/sieve and into a bowl to remove the large of clumps of chocolate and gelatin.
  5. Divide mixture into 3 ramekins/4 little tea cups. Refrigerate until set, about 3 hours.
  6. To serve, either invert molds onto serving plates or serve as is. Serve cold. Enjoy!