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Monday, April 29, 2013

Making Chicken Liver Pate

When there is just two of you for dinner, it is quite customary now for couples to see this as an opportunity for date night.  This is usually defined as crunching two goodselves in a car and squeeze through traffic jams to get to this or that place, by hook or by crook (lest one or the other loves each other less).
Sometimes, that isn't worth the hassle, is it?  While the alternative (slaving away in the kitchen for a 3-course crusade) is quite daunting on a busy schedule from work, I think there is a more elegant or more French (or both) way for this.  It may require a bit of preparation, but it will be worth it.  I'm talking of having pates on hand, some I buy in bottles from the weekend market, others, like a chicken liver pate, I make when I have an afternoon in the kitchen.  Making pates may sound daunting at first, but when I made my first one, I enjoyed every minute of it. 
I got my recipe from Donna Hay magazine, (top of my favorite food magazine list) but I substituted some of the ingredients there.  Instead of red currant jelly, I used our local guava jelly since the former is not readily available here, and instead of port, I used raspberry flavored wine vinegar (the brand I used is Borges, available in Landmark and Rustans) but increased the volume.  For the butter, I used Elle & Vire 75% fat free.  All in all, it still tasted as sinful as your restaurant-churned liver pate.  Make ahead and keep them in ceramic loaf pans to maintain their freshness longer and very appropriate for simple date nights. Serve with Melba toasts and your favorite bottle, then pop a disk of your favorite old movie in your dvd player and cozy up in a couch and exclaim:  C'est la vie!

I am reprinting Donna Hay's chicken liver pate recipe here incorporating my substitutions, but do check out her website.  You'll love the photos and the dishes cooked up there. Meanwhile, here is a picture of my own pate:

chicken liver pâté

  • 1½ teaspoons powdered gelatine
  • 1 tablespoon warm water
  • ¾ cup (80g) store-bought guava jelly
  • 40g butter
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 small brown onions, chopped
  • ²⁄³ cup sage leaves, chopped
  • 8 bay leaves
  • 600g chicken livers, trimmed
  •  3/4 cup (150ml) raspberry-flavored wine vinegar
  • 350g cold butter, extra, chopped
  • sea salt and cracked black pepper
  •  melba toast, to serve

Sprinkle the gelatine over the water and set aside for 5 minutes or until the water is absorbed. Place the guava jelly in a saucepan over high heat and bring to the boil for 30 seconds. Remove from the heat, add the gelatine mixture and stir until dissolved. Set aside to cool for 20 minutes. Pour the mixture into a 22cm x 8cm lightly greased loaf tin and refrigerate for 1–2 hours or until set (see recipe notes, below right).Place the butter, garlic, onion, sage and bay leaves in a large non-stick frying pan over medium heat and cook for 2–3 minutes or until softened. Add the livers and cook for 30 seconds. Add the wine vinegar and cook for a further 1 minute. Remove bay leaves and discard. Place the liver mixture, extra cold butter, salt and pepper in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth. Press the mixture through a fine sieve and spoon over the redcurrant jelly. Refrigerate for 2 hours or until set. Gently turn out and serve with melba toasts.  Serves 6 to 8.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Taiwan In My Mouth

One of the kinds of dimsum I truly enjoy is the xiao long bao - those tiny bundles filled with savory pork and soup and dipped in a vinegar soy sauce accentuated by ginger.  I was first introduced to this by my husband Jemy.  He discovered these delights in one of his side trips in our old neighborhood of Mandaluyong.  My sister Kristine, however, found a new place about two years ago that specializes in xiao long bao, and she brought us to Lugang Cafe in the SM Mall of Asia. 
The interiors do not look like your usual Chinese  restaurant.  It was modern and sleek, but quite busy.  It was a welcome change, may I add.  There were already many diners who have settled down in very comfortable cushioned chairs, which are good indications as to what to expect of our meal.
Lugang Cafe serves Taiwanese cuisine, and more specifically the xiao long bao.  The selection is quite lengthy, but we chose only two kinds - the usual pork, and the loofah, or patola, for us Filipinos.  The pork was perfect, meaty and made more succulent as the broth inside was intact.  The loofah tasted of freshness, and spoke for itself.  The dimsum wrapper made all the difference.  It was made on-site, from the freshest ingredients without the feeling of carbs.  The servings were generous too - nine pieces for every order, at cheaper prices compared to other xiao long bao restaurants.  We had repeat orders, of course.

Aside from dimsum, we had the savory Sauteed Beef with Chili Peppers, and the flavorful Fish Fillet with Crispy Taoso.  Both are must-try dishes.  (I don't have a picture of the fish though because I only realized that I needed to take one when it was already gone.  It was that good!) 
There were four of us who dined, and with drinks, only cost us PhP1,300.  Quite a good deal, without feeling heavy afterwards.  Enough room for a sinful dessert and coffee.

Gooood Morning, Vietnam! (part 2)

(This second part of my entry from last year had to take a back seat for a considerable time since I had a problem downloading my pictures into my laptop.  But since this issue has been resolved, here it is.) 
We started the day late for our excursion the next day at the Ba Dinh district, but too early for the museums to open. The Ho Chi Minh Museum and Vestige at the Presidential Palace area opens at 2 o'clock in the afternoon. In the interim, we had another bout of caphe sua da and ice cream for my daughter, and a short visit to the One-Pillar Pagoda. This pagoda is one of the two iconic pagodas of Vietnam, the other one being the Perfume Pagoda. This pagoda was built by the emperor Ly Thai Tong who ruled in the years 1028 to 1054. The emperor, who was childless, had a dream where he met the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara who handed the emperor a baby son while seated on a lotus flower. Ly later married a peasant girl and bore him a son, and in gratittude to the deity, he had the pagoda built in the design as we see it, which was similar to the image he saw in his dream. The pagoda is made of wood on a single stone pillar 1.25 meters in diameter. It is made to resemble a lotus blossom which is the Buddhist symbol of purity. The French had the pagoda destroyed in the First Indochina War, but this was later rebuilt.

The Ho Chi Minh Museum is a collosal structure, a marble behemoth, if you will.   In its quiet hours, the museum appears to be a popular backdrop for some edgy pre-nuptial and nuptial photos.  At the time we were there, there were two parties setting up for their respective weddings and snapping away when the place is the least crowded.

The Museum itself, however, does not house much, unless you get a kick out of the photographs and news clips of the communist party of the then USSR with no Uncle Ho in sight

even.  The upper floors though are filled with production designs of what the caves in which Ho Chi Minh would have lived in with splashes of his memorabilia in between, including canons, jeeps and arms used during their own party's struggle with the West.  All in all, it's not really a complete waste of time if what you're after is only a glimpse or a brief insight.  After the tour though, you emerge into a garden that surrounds the vestige of Ho Chi Minh, but which no one is allowed to enter, and this will lead you further out into this vast parking lot, or some kind of assembly area fully indoctrinated with the sound of Ho Chi Minh's anthem blaring from large speakers.

The Presidential Palace is a sight to behold.  It stands pretty in the garden, and its color

reminds me much of French vanilla ice cream - very buttery.  You will also get to see Uncle Ho's residential structures before he transferred to the Palace and makes for many a good photo opportunities.  Much of the furniture as originally used is intact and underlines the consistent fact that Uncle Ho lived a stark simple life.

And speaking of architecture, while we liked our stay at the Nam Hai Hotel, we could not pass up the opportunity to experience turn of the 20th century architecture of the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hotel.
So for our last two days in Hanoi, we booked ourselves there and experienced the lush and tranquil surroundings enjoyed by many known political personages and celebrities before us.  It was a good deal at US$125 for the the three of us, including a breakfast buffet.
Everything was well thought of, from the mattress to the sheets and L'Occitane toiletries, to the orchid, fudge and French macarons on your pillow before you sleep.  If this isn't heaven, it is certainly close to it. 

For more Hanoi eats, it's a must to go to Cha Ca La Vong.  It's literally a hole in the wall in Cha Ca Street in the Hoan Kiem District.  They serve only fish fillet that is marinated in their signature recipe and presented to you in a hotpot where you cook this yourself and eat it with rice noodles, herbs and vegetables.  Some people think it's a bit oily, but worth every ounce at VD170/person.
And your trip wont be complete unless you enroll in a cooking class.  I chose to learn more about Hanoi street food at the Hanoi Cooking Centre located at 44 Chau Long Street in the Ba Dinh District.  It's resident chef Tracey Lister welcomed our small group of four and was the one who conducted our market tour of Hanoi.  Indeed, while there is some similarity, if not huge, between the Vietnamese market and food culture with that of the Philippines', Tracey was able to add a few more insights and a different perspective on the Hanoi kitchen. 


Our kitchen classroom was well-equipped and each student was given an apron to use for that particular session, and our own work station.  The recipes were taught hands-on which afforded each one of us to appreciate every ingredient that goes into each dish.  My favorite was learning to cook the West Lake Prawns.  It reminded me of our own Ukoy, but instead of bean sprouts and other vegetables, the "cake" used were shoe string sweet potatoes.  It provided a good sweet balance with the savory-salty prawns.  After the kitchen session, we were directed to the cafe upstairs where we got to eat our own dishes along with a bottomless choice of their selection of wines, cola or juice. 


If you're a foodie, gourmet, or gourmand.  Hanoi should indeed be on top of your adventure list.  There's always something to experience first-hand at every turn of its busy street corners. Otherwise, just pull up a plastic chair from the street and set yourself up with their world-famous creamy-textured coffee on one hand, and a banh mih sandwich in the other ,and watch Hanoi peel its layers bit by bit.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

You Love Pie, I Love Pie, Everybody Loves Pie

At first, making pies was not one of my favorite desserts to make because I haven't found a pie dough recipe that I could rely on.  Even as I followed the recipes I get hold of to the letter, somehow, the texture does not come out right.  Eventually, I just accepted the fact that I don't have the hands that can create good pie. 
But it's summer and what better dessert is there that fits the season except pie?  And so, I went back to my old file and got out the first recipe I got from decades ago.  In fact, I got it out of the back of an evaporated milk can label.
The recipe called for 1 tablespoon of powdered milk and 1/2 teaspoon salt.  In my experience of using this recipe, the dough just seemed salty to me, so I decided to cut the salt in half and put only 1/4 teaspoon in the mixture.  And as for the powdered milk, while I have one in stock, I thought of trying out this malted milk powder by Carnation that I bought on a whim in one of my grocery shopping expeditions (Landmark Makati). 
And so there I was, laboring in the kitchen.  It was a short labor too since the dough recipe was quite easy to follow.  For the filling, I just bought 2 cans of blueberry pie filling but added sugar to it to taste since canned fillings are usually on the sour side (if my taste buds are going to be the standard here).
I doubled the recipe though, so I can make a lattice covering on my pie, and as I started kneading and putting things to shape, I knew I had something good going here.  And true enough, when the pie came out of the oven, the crust was evenly cooked, chewy but not soggy.  It was an inspired creation.
The Recipe:
1   cup    sifted flour
1   Tbsp. malted milk powder
1/4 tsp.   salt
2    tsp.   sugar
2   Tbsp. butter
1             egg yolk
2   cans  pie filling, any fruit
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Sift flour, malted milk powder, salt and sugar together.  Cut in butter with pastry blender or 2 knives until mixture looks mealy (or you can use food-grade disposable gloves, and do it with your hand).  Set aside.  Mix the egg yolk with tines of fork and 2-3 tablespoons of cold water into flour mixture.  Roll to fit a greased 9-inch pie pan.  Prick all over with fork to prevent crust from puffing.  Get the extra dough and roll to reform. Then slice into 1/2 inch strips lengthwise for your lattice covering.
Pour the two cans of pie filling into the pie shell.  However, if you want the filling to be a bit sweeter, pour first the pie filling into a separate bowl and mix in sugar according to your taste, before pouring into the pie shell.  Arrange dough strips on top of the fruit filling in an over-under way and secure both ends of strips by pinching it together with that part of the pie crust resting on the rim.  Decorate rim of pie crust either by pressing tines of fork around, or make a flute with the aid of your forefinger.  Cover the pie with aluminum foil and bake in the oven for 15 minutes.  Remove the aluminum foil afterwards and bake for another 15 minutes, or until crust is golden brown.  Let cool before serving.
(P.S.  Sorry, I don't have a habit of taking pictures step by step.  It breaks my momentum, will try to do this next time though.)

Thursday, April 18, 2013

A Restaurant for the Soul

As it is a very hot summer now in the Philippines, most people will take every opportunity to get out of the metropolis grind and head for the many beaches that surround the archipelago, or make that climb to Baguio to take in the cooler breezes with the pine trees.  For those that cannot get a weekend off, they might opt for a day trip to Tagaytay and enjoy the calming view of the Taal Volcano and Lake.

For a douse of Filipino culture, why not stay behind and enjoy the quiet weekend streets of Manila for a change?  Intramuros, for example, is quite charming when it is at its leisure.  One of its engaging places is the Casa Manila where one can appreciate the architecture of a typical household during the Spanish period and take a peek at a lifestyle that is quite familiar to us through the many stories one hears from his or her grandparents.  Another place to consider is the museum of the San Agustin Church just across the street and get lost in its wide corridors and many large rooms while getting to know more about the Dominican order's participation in the country's history.

And if you're hungry after that long walk inside the church, don't speed right out of Intramuros for the nearest cafe or restaurant.  One need only cross the street on the side and open the door to the calm and sincere attendants of Ristorante delle Mitre.  The restaurant is, obviously, named after the bishop's hat.  To know more of the mitre's story, a framed print hangs in the center wall of the place, since either side is devoted to windows where one can look out onto the street on one side, and a view of the small leafy courtyard on the other.   This side leads to the rest of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) compound.  Some of the restaurant staff are deaf or mute so you will have to write down your requests if it happens that they are the ones attending to your table.  But service is done with care, which means that it is not a fast food joint where your food is served in five minutes or less.  The results, however, are evident of the enjoyment they derive from their labors in the kitchen.

The menu is extensive that ranges from the regional specialties of the Philippines like the Bicol Express and Pinangat from Bicol, the Kinilaw of General Santos, or the Pinakbet of the Ilocanos, all named after the Bishops of the Philippines.  Try out their tender and savory Lengua Estofado, and the fresh and crispy Tawilis if you want something familiar and local.  But Delle Mitre serves very competent Italian dishes too.  The Pizza Quattro Formaggi has a crust as crispy and thin as what you can get in the pizzerias of Rome, and the Spaghetti alle Vongole is as delectable as the ristorantes of Venice.  And the prices?  Very affordable at PhP200 or less a dish.  Considering the generous servings, you can host a feast and you won't go dry.  
And for dessert, there is a wide choice as well, one cannot even make up his or her mind what to get to finish the meal.  It would be a good idea to bring in a few of your family members or friends, if not all, so you can have a taste of everything all at once.  They even do wedding cakes too.