Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Unforgettable Estrel’s Caramel Cake

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My birthday is coming up. It’s tomorrow actually. In the Philippines, abirthday wouldn’t be complete without a birthday cake. This gives me a perfect excuse to indulge my sweet tooth and get any cake I want for my special day.

Birthday cakes are usually done by Goldilocks or Red Ribbon. These are really popular bakeshops that specialize in cakes. The past two years I’ve been getting my birthday cake from Goldilocks, butter cake with sugar icing. The butter cake is sort of like a pound cake. It’s rich, heavy and delicious. This year however, I’m craving for an old time favorite, Estrel’s Caramel Cake. My mother remembers when she was a child, having her birthday cake made by Estrel’s bakeshop. It was long forgotten until a few years back when she heard about it again by word of mouth (it’s how some of the best foods are discovered). Their specialty is of course the caramel cake, and what adds to its deliciousness is the perfect flowers that border the cake. It’s made with real butter and provides that hint of richness that isn’t overwhelming.

This year has been particularly hot and the weather makes you want to eat light and refreshing desserts. Estrel’s caramel cake is made from chiffon cake which is light and fluffy. The caramel icing is not too sweet or rich, the beautiful flowers are made of creamy butter.

Estrel’s bakeshop was established in 1947 and is located at 54 Scout Tobias corner Scout. Limbaga Sts., Barangay. Laging Handa in Quezon City, still within Metro Manila. They only have just one branch and all the cakes are made to order. You have to place your order at least two days in advance because they can only make a limited amount of cakes in a day. Estrel’s pays particular attention to the quality of their cakes. That is one of the reasons they want to keep the business centralized and not mass produced. With the traffic in the city it makes it an ordeal to drive all the way to Quezon City. It takes about 2 hours to get there from where I live, and it really takes a special occasion for me to brave the trip there. This adds to the enormity of my craving for the cake. Also for my special day, I paid extra to add caramel filling in the middle of the cake. I’m not counting calories on my birthday.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Delicious Ribs

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Summer means barbecue , but in the Philippines, it’s sunny almost all year round which gives the Filipinos the luxury of pork or chicken 'inasal'- this is an ilonggo term from the Visayan region meaning 'to grill'. Barbecuing in the Philippines has always been done in one way, and that’s using charcoal which is sold in every street corner. This is primarily made from mahogany which is abundant in the country, so the smoky flavor derived from it is pretty much all the same, unlike in other countries with cooler climates you have the option of oak (heavy smoky flavor), hickory (strong smoky flavor), mesquite (sweet and light), apple (sweet and fruity), almond (nutty), birch (slightly sweet), etc. With the limited flavor that is derived from smoking the meat, much of the flavor is found in the marinade and the sauce. As I always love saying, “secret is in the sauce”.

I’d like to share a technique I always use when I’m craving for pork spare ribs, it’s great all year round, it’s simple and easy and great for Sunday lunches with the family.

I start out with a whole rack of baby back ribs, marinate it overnight with salt, pepper, brown sugar, garlic, red onions and some soy sauce. For someone such as myself, who creates a dish from taste rather that from precise measurements of ingredients, when making a marinade, all the basic ingredients to get the essence of the flavors are there, always remember when cooking, ingredients must never be used in excess, because it’s easy to just add later on.

The next day, boil the ribs till tender (but not too tender making the meat fall off the bone), just enough that the meat is still stuck to the bone but allowing you to pinch a piece off easily. Next, prepare atsuete oil (I make mine by heating up some vegetable oil with atsuete seeds, garlic and a bit of rock salt for color and a hint of garlic taste. Then you can start to barbecue the ribs and occasionally brush the meat with the oil. Since the meat is already cooked, I make sure the charcoal is scorching hot because I grill the meat really quick in intense heat to get the ideal charring that finishes off the perfect ribs.

Traditional Filipino barbequed dishes are always served with garlic fried rice or java rice. I prefer mine with sweet corn kernels, potato salad, southern biscuits (minus the gravy) and Reyes’ Barbecue Sauce. However way you like your ribs, it's always finger licking good.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Unbelievable Buttery Shortbread

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I’ve always had an inclination in favoring simple shortbread biscuits over rich chocolate cookies. Technically speaking a biscuit is a cookie in the U.K., and since the shortbread I’m raving about is from Scotland, we’ll call it a biscuit. I particularly like how the shortbread crumbles in your mouth. Shortbread is so named because of its crumbly texture from an old meaning of the word short, containing or cooked with shortening, such as butter. The cause of this texture is its high fat content, provided by the butter. Hence it’s crumblyness. Aside from it being delicate, it still is heavy because it’s unleavened. Like most commercial cookies they are almost always made with some form of leavening agent such as baking powder which gives it a different texture.

I so happened to come across a curios looking package containing shortbread biscuits while I was scrounging around Duty Free when I got back from Hong Kong. It was packaged simply without any extravagance at all that would indicate the makers to have hugely invested in their marketing strategy to sell their product. It was quite pricey, about $3.99 for a 160gram pack. But nonetheless I had to try it.

At first bite, Walker’s Pure Butter Shortbread did not disappoint me at all. It boasted of using the same Scottish family recipe since 1898. In fact, I could hear bagpipes playing in the background.

Since I tried Walker’s Pure Butter Shortbread, I haven’t seen it anywhere else. It’s not readily available in the groceries. So if you come across it, indulge yourself and try it. Who knows, this time you might get to have tea with Sean Connery.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Great Italian Meatball

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For anyone wishing it would rain meatballs like in the animated flick, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, here’s the next best thing. I always like my meatballs huge, but not gigantic. I want them juicy and tasty. Of course good sauce would make you the perfect spaghetti and meatballs dish but Del Monte’s Italian spaghetti sauce works perfect for me, especially when I can store a batch of meatballs in the freezer and have it anytime I want. Because I know for a fact how expensive this can be at supposedly a fastfood joint such as Sbarro’s.

Growing up, meatballs has always been a quick and easy solution for lunch when school’s out. The ones I grew up with are really simple, just the usual ground pork mix with onions etc. Since I started my love affair with dogs, I try to minimize the use of onions, although I must admit, it is almost a necessity in every Filipino dish, but for my meatballs, no onion is required. I tend to give a tiny little nibble to my babies as a treat sometimes.

Ingredients:

1kilo ground beef
1/2 c. bread cut into pieces
1 egg
1/4 c. finely minced fresh parsley
1/4 c. Parmesan or Romano cheese
salt and pepper to taste
8 to 10 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1 small white onion, finely chopped

Directions:

Mix all the ingredients together and shape it into the size you think is a perfect meatball size for you. What I do once I’ve balled all the meat is I steam them till they’re cooked. Because if they’re quite big, it doesn’t completely cook all the way through the middle if it’s fried. And if you fry them till the middle part is cooked, it tends to be too toasty for my taste. Once they’ve been steamed, cool them for a bit before you freeze them. Then whenever you’re craving for spaghetti and meatballs, or just plain meatballs, you can fry them either in olive oil or whatever kind of oil you fancy. Don’t forget to sprinkle extra cheese.

Craving For Inexpensive Alternative To Nutella

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Lately I’ve been craving for the taste of hazelnut chocolate spread. Nutella automatically pops into your head. The consistency is like the chocolate dip of Yan-Yan sticks but it’s got a sharper nuttier taste to it that just hits home run.

First time I tried hazelnut chocolate spread it was Crumpy Duo. With its white cream mix, it left the hazelnut taste almost unrecognizable. And its consistency was a bit thicker than Nutella. With Nutella being way over priced as usual with everything imported in the Philippines, I began to experiment with different chocolate hazelnut spreads that are a lot cheaper. I came across one called Nusica. It comes in a glass bottle, with the color of its printed paper really dull, so you’ll miss it if you’re not really looking for it. It’s made in Holland which is a country that produces fairly decent if not good chocolate. A 400 gram bottle costs P102 as against a 400 gram bottle of Nutella which costs around P250. The consistency is almost the same, if not as creamy. It has a less prominent hazelnut flavor, but all in all, it’s a lot better than the other chocolate hazelnut spreads available. And you save over P140.

So next time you’re thinking twice about indulging yourself with Nutella, try Nusica. It won’t hurt your pocket, but it will surely satiate your craving.

The Perfect American Breakfast Sausage

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A few years back, I always thought that to get the perfect American breakfast, everything had to come from the States. So I either had to spend double or even triple the cost of anything American I was craving for or wait until someone from the States brought me some. One such example is Jimmy Dean’s Sausage Links. For anyone who ever ate at Denny’s or International House of Pancakes (IHOP), any one of these two restaurants are my first stop as soon as the plane lands. Nothing beats a hearty American breakfast whatever time you get there.

To save me a plane ticket, one day, I finally got tired of spending too much on something that I know only costs 97cents at Albertsons. Everything that you ever tasted and tickled your taste buds can be made. It takes a lot of trial and error when you’re trying to get the perfect bite. But eventually you’ll get there.

I will be sharing this very simple recipe, because I’ve tried a number of them and only found this one to be the closest in taste to Jimmy Dean’s Sausage Links. The secret is not to over mix it to get the perfect texture to your sausage. The tedious part is trying to shape it into something that looks like a sausage link. I prefer doing the rolling and shaping myself lest you don't mind other people fondling your sausage. No pun intended.

Ingredients:

1 kilo ground pork (preferably not lean, because it's the fats that makes the sausage juicy)

2 teaspoons rock salt

1 1/2 teaspoons roughly ground black pepper

2 teaspoons sage

2 teaspoons thyme

1/2 teaspoon rosemary

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes ( I always use the packet that is leftover from pizza deliveries)

Directions:

Just combine ground pork with all other ingredients and roll them into links, or if you prefer, mold them into patties.

Breakfast links also comes in maple flavored packages. If you are looking for the maple taste you can try substituting the brown sugar for maple syrup, it'll make the sausages smell really good while frying them. I on the other hand tend to have sausages with pancakes topped with maple syrup, so I don't really mind the original recipe. But as I always say, it all depends on how you like it.