Summer Approaching

February 13, 2014 § 1 Comment

We’ve been experiencing cold climate of record-breaking proportion (relative, of course, to my part of the globe) since the start of the year.   This wonderful weather seemed to have followed us from San Francisco, where I spent my Christmas break with friends and family.  They say though that summer officially starts right after the Chinese New Year.  And true enough, a few days after the lunar calendar started, the temperature began rising.

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Although a cold front has hit the country again this week, last week was particularly warm and humid.  I’ve also been spending a lot of time at work, and the heat and exhaustion averts my desire to sweat out in the kitchen.

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And so my new cast iron Panini grill has come to the rescue several times last week.   I love my Panini on focaccia, but any kind of bread will come out a winner really.

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A few nights ago, I layered generous slices of Milano salami (I always have those on hand), sliced brown mushrooms (sautéed in olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper), and arugula on whole wheat focaccia bread.

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Then off it went to the grill, pressed into this gorgeous sandwich.  Yummy!

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Delightful Davao

February 4, 2014 § Leave a comment

Davao-DelightsCredits: Paper from the “Chronicling Life” kit of Haynay Designs

Davao.  Home to some of the country’s pride— the world’s largest bird, the monkey-eating Philippine Eagle and a rare orchid of exceptional beauty, the waling-waling— both found in Mt. Apo, Philippine’s highest peak.  But there is more to Davao than these.  Let’s not forget the “king of fruits”, durian.  The area is known to be the center of durian production, thanks to its rich fertile volcanic soil and until recently, typhoon-free area.  But more than durian, Davao is favored with other fresh, quality produce and fruits that are available all year round— pomelo, banana, mangosteen, lanzones, rambutan, mongo, peanuts, cabbage eggplant… among others.

The city is a fascinating mix of small town allure and modern metropolis refinement.  A metropolis inhabited by 1.4M people of different ethnic groups, culture and faiths.  The city teems with good food and on my not so very recent trip there, I discovered a few worth mentioning.

Swiss Deli

Along JP Laurel Ave., in Lanang is a deli and restaurant offering fine sausages, cured meats like bacon and hams, a selection of cheese, US and Australian steak cuts and even ostrich meats.  Owned by a butcher and a baker, Swiss Deli has been around since 2005 catering at first to expats and Davao’s upper crust.  Today, they supply some of the bigger supermarkets nationwide.  On my visit, the restaurant was packed for lunch.

Swiss-DeliMy superb lunch of Chicken Cordon Blue and a shared sausage platter.

Claude’s Le Café de Ville

Claude's-facade

We drove into a driveway of a well-lit ancestral house.  The garden well polished, the interior emulates the facade with old photos gracing the walls and well-appointed antique pieces scattered around.

Claude-interior

My favorite part of the house would be the porch— what a wonderful way to be greeted.

claude's-porch

This house epitomizes old world elegance through and through.  An ancestral home of the Oboza family (also called the Oboza Heritage House) now dwells the only full-service French restaurant in Davao, Claude’s Le Café de Ville.

Complementing its charming home are wonderful dishes served from its kitchen headed by husband and wife team Claude and Tess Le Niendre.  I had the Crab Cocktail to start and the specialty of the house, the Fillet of Beef Tenderloin with Pepper Sauce.

crab-cocktail

The crab appetizer was excellent, and my main, albeit a bit overcooked for my taste (it was more medium well than my preferred medium), was tasty and still juicy.

A pretty authentic French restaurant in Davao was definitely a pleasant surprise.

Malagos Farmhouse Artisan Cheeses

malagos-board

Davao surprises me, I tell ya.  After an evening of wonderful French feasting, we were on our way, the next day, to buy artisan cheese.  This wasn’t the first time I had tried cheeses from Malagos and so impressed I was, I had to find them and see what else they had to offer.

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Olive Puentespina, the woman behind Malagos Artisan Cheeses, has been producing cheeses since 2006.  All made from hybrid cows and goats from their dairy farm.

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A cheese spread was laid out for us to try over at the farmhouse—from quesong puti, to flavored chevres, to manchego blue—an unbelievable spread, all proudly made in Davao.

cheese-platter

Personal favorites are:  Queso Rustico (semi-soft cow’s milk similar to a manchego), Blush (Queso Rustico with a tint of blue), La Maria (similar to a camembert), Feta tricolor (feta with chili and rosemary, infused fresh), and the Chevre with mango (a blend of creamy French style goat cheese with sweet mango bits).

cheese-stashMy Take-Home Stash

Spirale Ristorante

pizza

For wonderful pasta and pizza, Spirale Ristorante will not disappoint.  Thumbs up for the Vongole ai Chorizo (a wonderful combination, don’t you think?) and the pizza, which is cooked in a wood-fire oven.  Crust was doughy yet crispy.

Chicco di Caffe

durian-brazo-de-mercedes

For their Durian Brazo di Mercedes.  Yum!!!  Anything durian is possible in Davao.  I had my first taste of durian in an ice cream in Davao some 20 years ago and I’ve never looked back.  I. Adore. Durian.

Swiss Deli
JP Laurel Ave., Lanang, Davo City
+6382 234 0271
 
Claude’s Cafe de Ville
29 Rizal St., Paseo de Habana, Davao City
+6382 305 2635 / +6382 222 4287
 
Malagos Farmhouse
Bolcan St., Agdao, Davao City
+6382 226 4446
 
Spirale Ristorante
Damaso Complex
Angliongto Road, Lanang, Davao City
+6382 234 6298
 
Chicco di Caffe
Gen. Douglas MacArthur Hwy, Davao City
+6382 305 3534
 
Faura St., Davao City

Devastations and Tarte Tatins

December 2, 2013 § Leave a comment

Last month was a month of total devastation in my part of the world,  devastation that is unexpected by many, me included.   The most powerful tropical cyclone of the year hit our shores on November 8.  Super typhoon Haiyan, locally known as Yolanda, smashed into most of the Visayas and some parts of Luzon in central Philippines, affecting more than 10 million people.

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Survivors stand among debris and ruins of houses destroyed after Super Typhoon Haiyan battered Tacloban city in central Philippines November 10, 2013.  Credits:  Reuter: Erik de Castro 

With winds that clocked in at average strength of 196 mph (314 kph), Yolanda’s rampage left a city and many islands in ruins, a population with no homes, and countless bodies still being found almost a month after.

I am writing this in the safety of my home, 850km away from the disaster zone.  I shuddered at the thought of what it would have been like if it had hit the metropolis and I count my blessings.  I do my best to help in every little way I can – donations, feeding the volunteers, and eventually feeding the survivors that found their way to Manila.  Not enough, if you ask me, but what is enough?

This turn of events has left me heavy-hearted and shaken, and I turned to one thing that always calms me.  I baked.

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I’ve always wanted to make Tarte Tatins – a killer sticky sweet caramel-topped French treat that was originally made with apples.  Many, through the years, have twisted the recipes to use different fruits – pears, bananas, peaches, pineapple – I chose to use guavas.  Guavas are heavenly when preserved in sugar.

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It is one of the easiest to make but likewise one of the hardest.  This tart is made upside down by cooking the fruit in butter and sugar in a heavy-based oven-proof skillet, then topped with pastry before baking.  That’s the easy part.  The hard part is flipping the tart (down side up) without making a mess and burning oneself.

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I used two large guavas, which, I think could use more.  So depending on the size of the guavas, you may choose to use three large guavas.

Guava Tarte Tatin

(recipe adapted from Deb of Smitten Kitchen)

What You Need:

  • 2-3 large Guavas (I used Apple Guavas)
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 6 tablespoons (85 grams) butter
  • 1 1/3 cup (266 grams) sugar, divided
  • Puffed pastry, chilled
  • A 9-inch ovenproof skillet, heavy enough that you fear dropping it on your toes

What You Do:

  1. Peel guavas, cut lengthwise into quarters and core (you don’t want the seeds). Then cut a bevel along their inner edge, which will help their curved exteriors stay on top as they rest on this edge.
  2. Toss guavas with the lemon juice and 1/3 cup of the sugar. Set aside for 15 minutes to help release the guava’s juices.making-caramel
  3. Melt butter in an oven-proofed skillet over medium heat. Sprinkle in remaining (1 cup) sugar and whisk it over the heat until it becomes a pale caramel color.
  4. Off the heat, add the guavas to the skillet, arranging them rounded sides down in one layer. Lay any more guava wedges left rounded sides down in a second layer, starting from the center.cooking-the-guava
  5. Return the pan to the stove and cook in the caramel for another 20 to 25 minutes over moderately high heat. With a spoon, regularly press down on the guavas and baste them with the caramel juices from the pan. If it seems that your guavas in the center are cooking faster, rotate guavas. The guavas will shrink a bit by the end of the cooking time.
  6. Preheat oven to 200°C (400°F). Roll out your puffed pastry to a 9-inch circle and trim if needed. Cut four vents in pastry. Remove skillet from heat again, and arrange pastry over guavas. Tuck it in around the guavas for nicer edges later. Bake until the pastry is puffed and golden brown, about 20 minutes.
  7. Once baked, use potholders to place a plate or serving dish (larger in diameter than the pan) over the pasty and tip over the pastry and guavas at once onto the plate. If any guavas remain in the pan, nudge them out with a spatula.
  8. Serve warm with a dollop of whipped crème fraîche, or lightly sweetened whipped cream.

 Sliced

Tips:

  • Try other variations:  bananas, pears, apples (of course) — although I haven’t tried making any of these yet.
  • If you don’t have an oven-proofed pan, cook the fruit in a heavy based frying pan, then transfer them into a similar sized pie dish and top with pastry before baking.
  • You can cook this one day ahead, keep it in the mold and reheat in a preheated oven at 150°C for 20 minutes but it is best 1 hour after cooking when still warm.

Hong Kong Nightlife: Knutsford Terraces

October 28, 2013 § 2 Comments

High-rise buildings, temples, shopping malls, and traditional markets sit side by side in hilly terrain.  Once home to fishermen and farmers, the Hong Kong of today is teeming with a dynamic metropolis fused with Chinese and Western influences.

Island-Seafood-and-Oyster-Bar

A lively range of restaurants, eateries, pubs and bars are mostly found in east Tsim Sha Tsui, Wanchai, and Lan Kwai Fong, the latter touted as the icon of the city’s vibrant nightlife that consist of tourists, expat and an overseas Chinese community.  For an engaging mix of locals and outsiders, and mid-priced eats, however, the bustling Tsim Sha Tsui neighborhood may be a better bet.

Wandering about in Nathan Road, we turned into Kimberly Road.  The flight of steps, next to the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream shop, revealed a pedestrian strip of al fresco restaurants and bars, and multi-story building housing more selections of eats.

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An exciting mix of restaurants, bars and clubs that span the globe, Knutsford Terraces is, in some measure, the “Lan Kwai Fong” of Kowloon.  Smaller and less frenetic, fascinated by the varied selections, we thought it was worth probing into.  And so we found ourselves back the following night.

Eyeballing each menu on the strip, and always on the look out for fresh oysters, we walked into Island Seafood and Oyster Bar.

Island-fresh-oysters

With most establishments reasonably priced, this joint was way off our budget.  Not to read this wrong, for Hong Kong standards, the oysters we had were probably worth the price, but coming from a country teeming with fresh seafood, it was good to try but not safe to linger… not safe for the pocket, at least.

And so we moved on.  Tutto Bene’s pastas, one of the oldest restaurants on the strip, won over Widlfire’s thin crusted, wood-fire oven baked pizza.  Seated at the outdoor patio, we were served bread with a lovely spread set of roasted garlic, pesto, and a tomato-based cream cheese.  Both our dishes were excellent with us switching plates mid-way.

Tutto-Bene-Risotto

The Riso con Capisanto alla Griglia is perfectly cooked Arborio rice with shiitake, portobello and porcini mushrooms and topped with grilled scallops and shiitake fritters – a mouthful of wonderful flavors of earthy mushrooms and sweet scallops.

tutto-bene-ravioli

The eggplant and mozzarella filled ravioli, on the other hand, worked remarkably well with the pesto, roasted walnut and arugula – a play on sweet, slightly bitter and slightly peppery flavors.

tutto-bene-limoncello

We capped the evening meal with fantastic limoncello, so good we asked to see the bottle.

The following evening, we stayed indoors (partly because it was drizzling on and off) and found The Tasting Room Cocktail Kitchen at the Miramar Shopping mall.

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Dark interior, small tables, a large TV screen… not exactly very inviting but what caught Anton’s fancy was the beer combo – a set of four beers arranged in drinking order (as explained by the wait staff).

beer-tasting

The choices, Hoegaarden, Budvar, Asahi, were different enough to call for this pick.  What hit my spot, truth to tell, was the Dinner Tasting Sets.

tasting-room-3Clockwise:  French Mussels, Winter Black Truffle and Pig Knuckles stuffed in tomato and glazed in beef jus, Foie Gras on toast, 36 months Iberico Ham and figs

We chose the Eight Course Winter Tasting Set (to share), which comes with a max of 6 oysters at half the price.

tasting-roomLeft to Right:  Dessert, Chanterelle and Tenderloin, Thin Asparagus pizza

Suffice to say that we were happy campers that evening.  If it weren’t raining, the best place to sit is out back, overlooking the terrace strip.

If staying within the neighborhood, Knutsford Terrace is a good choice to be.  With the many restaurants still unexplored, a return on my next trip to Hong Kong is not far-fetched.

Island Seafood & Oyster Bar
10 Knutsford Terrace,
Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon
For Reservation: +852-2321-6663
 
Tutto Bene
7 Knutsford Terrace,
Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon
For Reservations:  +852-2316-2118
 
The Tasting Room
Shop 2015 Mirarmar Shopping Center
132 Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui
Knutsford Terrace N01-10
For Reservations: +852-2473-0168

Chicken Larp (Laotian Chicken Salad)

September 18, 2013 § 2 Comments

My aunt’s kaffir lime tree bore fruits, but she usually lets them fall off because she only uses the leaves, she told me.

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Thoughts of Thailand and Laos, most especially, burned in my mind, reminding me of the various dishes flavored with this heavenly lime.

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I spent a day learning Lao cooking at the Tamnak Lao Restaurant in Luang Prabang 2 years ago.  Fun experience, but I haven’t had many chances of making the recipes at home because kaffir lime is usually needed and is often hard to come by.

kaffir-lime

Sure I could use lemon or calamansi… but kaffir has a distinct strong tangy flavor that can brighten up a dish.

“I could use some of those limes”, I told my aunt, suddenly missing the taste of larp.  She sent me some and threw in some leaves too.  Thank you Tita V.

Now I understand why she doesn’t use the fruit, most were dry.  So dry, I had to use a few for this recipe.

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But it was worth it.  I was back in Luang Prabang, in a sidewalk café having my larp with ice-cold Lao beer, the Mekong on one side and Indo-Chinese residences on the other.

This is why I cook.

Chicken Larp

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A very traditional Lao cold salad that can be substituted with pork, beef, fish and even tofu.

What You’ll Need

  • 200 gram minced chicken, skin off
  • 2 tablespoon banana flower finely sliced, rinsed well in water and drained.
  • 2 kaffir lime leaves, thinly sliced
  • 1 shallot, thinly sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
  • 1 bunch of coriander, cut up finely green part only
  • 2 stalks lemon grass, thinly sliced white part only
  • 6 large rocket arugula, thinly sliced
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon rice powder*
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • ¼ teaspoon fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon fried garlic**
  • 1 tablespoon fried shallots**
  • 1 medium lime or lemon, juiced
  • 2 tablespoons chicken or pork stock

What You do

  1. Put the pork or chicken stock, minced chicken, and half of the lime juice in a wok.
  2. Place over low heat and keep stirring until the chicken is cooked through and the stock is reduced.
  3. Transfer chicken in a bowl.
  4. Add the banana flower, kaffir lime leaves, shallots, garlic, coriander, lemongrass, and arugula leaves.  Mix well.
  5. Add salt, rice powder, chili powder, fish sauce, fried garlic, and fried shallots.  Mix thoroughly.
  6. Pour rest of the lime juice over the salad and give it a quick stir through.

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Tips:

* Make your own rice powder by dry-frying raw sticky rice until it just begins to turn golden.  Then whiz in a blender until powdery.  Store in airtight container.

** If you can’t find fried garlic and shallots, make your own by slicing shallots / garlic very finely and deep-fry them until they turn golden.  Store in airtight container.

Macau Eats

August 28, 2013 § 2 Comments

Macau-eatsCredits:  Paper by Haynay Designs from the Scrapmatters’ Life Little Surprises kit

On board the TurboJet catamaran en route to Macau, I mentally planned our next few days in a city best known today as a high-rolling-casino-lover’s haven.  Not by any means my cup of tea, but there is more to this glitzy casino city than just the sin and the bling.  Although heavily dependent on gambling, Macau’s real attraction (in my opinion) has always been the food.  As an ex-Portuguese colony, Macau has married Asian and Mediterranean in its culture, architecture and even in its cuisine.

grand-lisboaThe Grand Lisboa

The flavors of Portugal intermingled with the Chinese and strongly influenced by the Southeast Asians, Africans, and South Americans has brought out a real fusion between East and West and has evolved to what is known today as Macanese cuisine.  The result is earthy and rich in texture, flavor, and aroma.

Macanese food aside, the presence of raved about, quality establishments worthy of a Michelin star or two scatter around this peninsula making Macau a dining spectacle it is today.

First off our agenda: Dim sum

roasted-mushroom-goose-liver-pateRoasted Mushroom topped with goose liver pate

On the 2nd floor of the east wing of Hotel Lisboa is Portas do Sol.  Contrary to its name, it is a “typical” Chinese restaurant, well-lit with a lively atmosphere, serving dim sum dishes as well as Chinese haute cuisine with season specialties.  The extensive dim sum list reveals familiar and unfamiliar but exciting dishes.  Mostly from the Chef’s recommendation, the dishes we chose were as ambrosial as its presentation.

portas-do-solClockwise:  Steamed rice flour with preserved vegetables and barbecued pork, Steamed river shrimp dumplings flavored with basil, Deep fried wonton in sweet and sour sauce, Deep fried spare ribs with garlic and honey sauce, Deep fried diced garoupa in mustard sauce

Margaret

Margaret's-Cafe-e-Nata

Then we walked down the street to a small alley.  Tucked away in that alley is a small café selling the much talked about egg tarts.  Creamy custard centers, slightly burnt caramel, buttery flaky crust – no wonder Margaret’s Cafe e Nata has queues any day of the week… well except Wednesdays, which was when we first found this hole-in-the-wall, darn!  I found myself walking the same route from Hotel Lisboa the next day.  I walked down Avenida Infante D. Henrique, passed the Grand Lisboa, crossed Avenida de Joao IV and veered right on that street until I saw a small (Margaret’s Café) sign pointing into an alley.  I followed that sign and joined the others in the queue and in less than 30 minutes, I was skipping my way back to the hotel with four pieces of exquisite Portuguese egg tarts to be devoured at the comfort of our room with some leftovers, which held up well for breakfast the next day.

pastel-e-nata

A Crossover from Hong Kong

This upscale restaurant has branches in Hong Kong, Macau and Shanghai. Chef and owner Tao Hwa Yan, once an apprentice to a legendary Cantonese Chef, Master Lee Choi, opened Tim’s Kitchen in a quiet street in Sheung Wan, Hong Kong in 2000.  Bringing with him the techniques he learned with the master, the restaurant started as an on-site private dining serving traditional Cantonese cuisine.  In 2007, Stanley Ho invited him to open a branch in Hotel Lisboa in Macau.  With both HK and Macau branches currently given a Michelin star, Tim’s is not cheap but worth a visit.

roasted-pigeon

The waiters know their menu, and although we failed to order their (pre-ordered) signature dishes, the recommended succulent baked pigeon with preserved veggies wrapped in lotus leaves had us licking our fingers.

Tim's-kitchen

Other just as good dishes recommended to us were: Sautéed scallops with fungus and chives with XO sauce, Fried rice with minced beef, onions and shallots, and Pan fried pork pie with salted fish.

Antonio

Trade in the gilded casino floor at the Venetian for a quaint cobblestone lane lined with Portuguese styled pastel townhouses in Old Taipa Village.  In one of these houses, at the corner of Rua dos Clerigos is Antonio.

Antonio-facade

Not easy to find, we wandered around way before lunch hoping to get a table.  And in a small Alley, we chanced on some Filipino restaurant staff who happened to be taking their breaks from THE Antonio’s kitchen.  With their help, we managed to get ourselves a table.  Antonio Coelho has been preparing authentic Portuguese food in Macau since he relocated in 1997.

baked-duck-rice

Arroz de Pato – shredded duck, rice, and preserved sausage baked into a flavorful, aromatic dish.  A signature dish not to be missed.

AntonioFrom Left:  Clams in white wine and olive oil, Pork Tenderloin steak, Portuguese style served with fried egg, a pitcher of Sangria.

Following the hearty meal, we wandered around the old village.

pork-bun-line

In a corner, near the Pak Tai Temple, we see a line forming but much as we would love to try Tai Lei Loi Kei’s famous Pork Chop bun, dessert appeals more than the bun.  This will have to wait.  So we walked back to Antonio to where he opened a café across.

casa-do-antonio

We found our corner and ordered 2 amazing desserts to die for.

Antonio-desserts

The Serradura is as velvety as this one and the orange roll is a perfect combination of moist cake, orange liqueur and caramel.  Did I say to die for?

 
Portas do Sol
2/F East wing of Hotel Lisboa,
Avenida de Lisboa, Macau
For reservations call: (853) 8803-3100
 
Margaret’s Café e Nata
Edificio Kam Loi
Rua Almirante Costa Cabral, Macau
 
Tim’s Kitchen
Lobby Level East wing of Hotel Lisboa
Avenida de Lisboa, Macau
For reservations call: (853) 8803-3682
 
Antonio
Rua dos Clerigos No. 7
Old Taipa Village, Macau
For reservations call: (853) 2899-9998

Wild Rice Shoots

August 2, 2013 § Leave a comment

I first had it at my mom’s.  Succulent, crisp strips similar in texture to bamboo shoot but less fibrous.  It assimilated well with the heat of the chili bean paste and the savory taste of oyster sauce.

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It became an instant favorite, thanks to the lady at Wei Wang, the neighborhood oriental store my mom frequents, for recommending this bamboo shoot looking vegetable to her complete with instructions on how to cook it. She said it was a kind of shoot called “kuw-sun”.

wild-rice-shoots

I later find out that “kuw-sun” is also called Wild Rice Shoots, an aquatic plant widely used in China and Japan which, when stripped of its husk, reveals a smooth, very pale inside. Rich in vitamins A and C, calcium, iron and other minerals, it is sliced and eaten raw or cooked, usually prepared by stir-frying with thinly sliced pork.

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Chili Wild Rice Shoots with Pork and Mushrooms

What You’ll Need

  • 2 stalks of wild rice shoots, outer layer removed, and cut into strips
  • 4-5 shiitake mushrooms cut into strips
  • 100-150g minced pork
  • 1 tablespoon Chili Bean Paste
  • 1 tablespoon Premium Oyster Sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Sugar
  • ¼ cup water
  • 2 tablespoon Vegetable oil
  • Sesame oil for drizzling

 What You Do

  1. In a small bowl, mix together chili bean paste, oyster sauce, sugar and water.  Set aside.
  2. Heat up a wok until smoky and add oil.  Bring temperature down to medium high
  3. Add the pork, stir-fry until brown then add the mushrooms.  Cook for seconds before adding the wild rice shoots.  Toss around until the shoots are slightly brown.IMG_0551
  4. Add the chili mixture and toss until well coated.
  5. Drizzle with a good quality sesame oil before serving.

A dish packed with flavor and so easy to prepare.

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