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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

True Grit

No, this doesn't have anything to do with the classic movie, but with your choices come cocktail hour.  As the air in my part of the world becoming chilly due to the delightful change in season, so have my musings turned to more thoughts on my choice of poison come dusk.  (The better to warm me with, my dear.)

Forget about pitchers of Weng-Weng, Zombie, or even this decade's hipsters' choice like the vodka martini, mojito or margarita.  I'm thinking of going back to when men are men and women are women.  I'm thinking of a serving of either a Negroni, Rum Cola, Campari, or Whiskey Sour.  Except for the Rum Cola, which has been traditionally served in a highball glass, I prefer going back to using rock glasses.  Nevertheless, something new comes along that can be as good as the classics.  I tried my hand with this Espresso Cocktail.  Perky, with a creamy finish to the palate.  Left me with a very good feeling for the rest of the evening.

The Recipe

1 cup (250 ml) chilled espresso coffee
1 cup (250 ml) hazelnut-flavored liqueur
1 cup (250 ml) coffee-flavored liqueur
ice cubes

Except, for the ice cubes, combine all ingredients in a pitcher.  Spoon ice cubes into glasses and pour the coffee mixture over it.  Allow to chill a moment before serving.  Makes 8 people happy.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Here Comes The Rain Again

We experienced a large amount of rain a couple of days ago, and I thought it was just one of those sporadic showers.  But big fat drops started coming down more often since then and thus making it obvious that summer in the Philippines might finally be over.   Now, what should I do with the rest of the strawberries left in the refrigerator?

As summer's last hurrah, I thought of making strawberry sauce to maximize the benefits of its freshness.  This accompanied our home-made cheesecake pancakes that we ate as an afternoon snack.  However, I can bet this is as good anytime of the day as any, including dessert time at the dinner table.  The "cheesecake" here comes from using cottage cheese for lesser calories, although you can use softened cream cheese if you want to be extra indulgent. 

While you can use ready-made pancake batter for this, I've included a recipe for batter from scratch.  It's very easy to make and wouldn't make much difference in prepping time.  I'm sure you'll enjoy making your own.

The Recipe

For the pancake batter:

1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup sugar (or sugar substitute if you want it sugar free)
1 egg
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup cottage cheese (I used Nestlé's)
1 tsp. lemon zest, minced

1.  Heat a stovetop griddle or large skillet over medium heat.
2. Whisk milk, sugar, egg, butter, and vanilla together in a large bowl.
3. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt, then add to the egg mixture; stir until just incorporated.  If there are a few lumps left, this is fine.  Blend in cottage cheese and lemon zest.
4. Spray hot griddle or skillet with cooking spray then pour 1/3 cup batter per pancake into it.  Cook 3 minutes, or until bubbly on top then flip and cook another 2 minutes or so.  Transfer to plate and keep warm while working with the rest of the batter. 
5. Serve with strawberry sauce, graham cracker crumbs and sour cream or yogurt (as a light alternative).

For the strawberry sauce:

4 cups fresh strawberries, hulled and halved
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 tsp. cornstarch
1 tsp. orange zest, minced

Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 7 minutes, or until strawberries soften.

For Graham Cracker Crumb Topping:

4 Tbsp. salted butter
1 cup crushed graham crackers
3 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon

Melt butter in a small skillet over medium heat.  Add remaining ingredients and cook until toasted, stirring often (about 5 minutes).  Sprinkle on top of pancakes.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Going Where the Sun Shines

Living and working east of Manila certainly has its rewards.  It afforded me the opportunity to get to see many other sides of the country that I would not have seen or discovered if I lived in Metro Manila. 

For example, the year I started blogging (2009), my husband and I traveled to Laguna plying the east Manila road and ended up in San Pablo where we sought out this little café called Sulyap Gallery Café.  At that time, it was a challenge to look for it since it was inside a compound known thereabouts as the former Cocoland and it has just opened a couple of months.  We had the most sumptuously simple San Pabloesque dinner there with the silent provincial skyline, and condensed air that sparkled with fireflies with a promise of a gentle shower. (Curious?  Read more on it here.)

At that time, there was only the café and the museum, where we got to appreciate the collection of antique furniture and knick-knacks of old Philippines.  The attendant did say that a bed and breakfast was being conceptualized.  Four years later, we were coming from Lucena and on our way home when we decided to drop by for a quick merienda fix from that long stretch of road.  Now, you can ask any tricycle driver on the road and they will happily direct you to where you can find the place.

Behold, the café and museum are now collectively known as Sulyap Bed and Breakfast with the addition of two structures that house de luxe and family rooms for visitors to the town known for its seven lakes.  Family and barkada rooms are located in this newly constructed structure right beside the café.  Outside, it would look like its your own guest house made of mixed materials - nipa roofing, concrete walls and window shutters made of colorful capiz shells, old-world charm included.  Interiors are generous with big king-size and day beds, and the bathrooms that would make you stay there the whole day instead of outdoors.  (Check out their website for yourself as earmarked here, and find out about their room rates and café menu).

The smaller rooms are located in the authentic 19th century bahay na bato, every nut, bolt, nook and cranny transported intact from Quezon - much like the one that houses the café.  The bedrooms have the same old-world Filipino furnishings as the other house, but on a smaller scale, and the beds themselves are delightful to sink into.  With creature comforts such as this, it would be indeed preferable to stay indoors and bask in history.

And part of basking in such history is to snack the old-fashioned way: Pancit Bihon that is savory, has enough vegetable, shrimp and pork toppings and accompanied by perfectly toasted "tasty" bread.

We drank the simple elegance of the whole compound and it certainly has a way of lifting one's spirits.  It's a wonder to know that such a small charming place exists in this part of the world. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013


Continuing with what seems to be my Italian state of mind (read the previous post on Zeppole), I thought of going back to doing another traditional dish - meatballs with your spaghetti.  If the celebrity chef Rocco Dispirito be the resource, this is quite a traditional thing from the Campagna region of Italy from which his family emigrated from. 
This is my take on meatballs, but used cheaper ingredients like ground pork.  Try making your own batch; its quite simple and won't take much of your time.  You can even do this ahead and keep in the ref for later use.  Use it with store-bought tomato-based pasta sauces (I like the tomato and basil spaghetti sauces).  It's one way of personalizing a commercial sauce.  As testimony, this is one of the pasta dishes offered by Heaven's Country Kitchen yesterday and the girls loved it.

The Recipe

1 kilo ground pork (a bit of fat will add flavor)
1 cup finely chopped white onions
1 1/2 cups soft bread crumbs
2-3 Italian sausages, crumbled or chopped finely (Chorizo Bilbao also works)
6 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil leaves, or 2 Tbsp. dried basil
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp each salt and pepper
2 eggs, slightly beaten

Mix all ingredients together and form into balls.  Put in a container lined with wax or baking paper and cool in refrigerator for at least one hour before cooking.  (Don't worry, the balls wont stick together once they're formed.  So you can put them on top of each other in the container).  Before cooking, preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line a shallow baking sheet with baking paper then arrange the meatballs in a single layer and bake for about 20 minutes.  You have an option to brown the meatballs afterwards in a pan with a little oil to bring out its smoky flavor.  They are now ready to be mixed into the sauce of your choice.
Tip:  For the pasta sauce, sauté chopped onions and garlic in a little oil before adding the pasta sauce. Add a bit more salt and pepper according to taste before adding the meatballs and let simmer for a few minutes.  Pour the sauce on your cooked spaghetti noodles and serve with grated parmesan cheese.  Absolute enjoyment!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Ciao to Doughnuts

Here is my Italian take on doughnuts.  Small morsels referred to as Zeppole, they're lighter than regular doughnuts (it has more ricotta than flour, and way less sugar), and very easy to prepare.  I made a batch this afternoon to greet my daughter after school, served with hot chocolate.  Absolutely perfect with coffee too.

The Recipe

100 gms. flour
2  tsp. baking powder
pinch salt
30 gms. sugar
250 gms. ricotta cheese
2 eggs
suflower oil for deep frying
icing or powdered sugar

1.  Sift flour with baking powder, salt and sugar.

2.  Beat ricotta cheese with eggs until blended.

3.  Fold into dry ingredients.

4.  Mold into balls with two tablespoons (to avoid getting your hands messy) and deep fry.

5.  Drain on paper towels and sprinkle with icing sugar.  Enjoy!