September 24, 2015 § Leave a comment
If you’ve never heard of “XO Sauce”, no it’s not the expensive brand designated to a grade of Cognac. In the culinary and gourmand world, XO Sauce is known as the emperor of all sauces. Vogue China once described it as the “Caviar of the East”, it’s pricey, but a little goes a long way. I’ve written about it a few years back (here) and continue to be awed by it.
Packed with deep, rich smoky intensity, this gourmet condiment is made from dried scallop, ham, dried shrimp, red chili pepper, onions, and garlic. It gives the added oomph to stir-fried meats, seafood, tofu, and vegetables. Never fails on pasta and noodle dishes too.
XO Sauce’s fabled history started in Hong Kong, its exact circumstance surrounding its birth is unknown. It most likely first graced the table of one of Hong Kong’s pricey dining establishments and ever since then, the fascination with this sauce has continued to heighten. One does not need to dine out to satisfy one’s craving anymore.
Lee Kum Kee has bottled a very impressive version of the XO Sauce. I add it to my vegetable or seafood dishes. It is perfect to add a different flavor to fried rice too.
What I have here are simple ingredients that I found on my crisper, a teaspoon of XO Sauce gave this eggplant a great lift.
September 3, 2015 § Leave a comment
If you’re thinking of visiting any part of Vietnam, the first thing you need to know about is that food is an integral part of their culture and livelihood. Anyone who has traveled to Vietnam will tell you that it is one of the major attractions. You can’t go to Vietnam and not have a taste of their cuisine.
More often than not, the street is its stage – street food stalls can be found anywhere from the main roads to the alleyways. Small plastic stools and a table taking up the sidewalk is a common scene.
So what is Vietnamese food? It has a distinct flavor yet it is almost universally accepted palate-wise. The taste comes from fish sauce, shrimp paste, soy sauce, and fresh herbs such as mint, cilantro, and lemongrass – think spicy, sour, bitter, salty and sweet when combined. Influenced much by the Chinese and French, Vietnamese love their noodles and bread. Theirs is a cuisine that is light and refreshing, which is probably why it is easy on the palate. Their taste for fresh ingredients and simple methods has actually placed their cuisine on the map of the foodies.
On my recent visit to Hanoi, I rediscovered favorites and got introduced to new staples. So without further ado, here are a few staples and must-haves when in Vietnam, in my opinion.
Pho – THE staple of Vietnam, available all day and night long.
The national food is a steaming, fragrant broth of rice noodle with chicken or beef topped with bean sprouts, mint, and a few more herbs. Squeeze a wedge of lime into it and the freshness of this simple noodle soup raises the bar for all noodle soups. It’s impossible to walk a block without bumping into a hungry crowd slurping noodles in a makeshift pho stand on a sidewalk.
Banh Mi – The French has stamped its mark on Vietnam through its baguette and has since been given a Vietnamese spin.
This Vietnamese sandwich (more commonly called Banh Mi) is a heavenly concoction of crusty baguette filled with pork, pâté, butter, and an array of local ingredients (cilantro, cucumber, jalapeño and pickled carrots and daikon). Indeed a product of cultural and culinary blend that managed to put Vietnamese cuisine on the map.
Bun Cha – If Pho is Vietnam’s most famous dish Bun Cha (ubiquitous in the North) is what everyone prefers over lunch in Hanoi.
Nem Cua Be – Bun Cha lovers normally order a side dish of this spring roll filled with small amounts of crab meat, minced pork, garlic, herbs, mushrooms, and glass noodles, then deep-fried to juicy/crisp perfection.
Goi Cuon – Fresh spring rolls, light and healthier version of Vietnam’s many spring rolls.
Nem Nuong Xa – Grilled minced meat on lemongrass skewers.
I’ve always loved these and have long been one of the familiar Vietnamese dishes on my side of the world. It’s meat patties wrapped around lemongrass stalks/skewers then grilled. Simple yet so satisfying.
Ngo Chien Bo – It’s sweet corn kernels fried in butter. Introduced to us by the locals we befriended at the beer corner.
Bo Bia Ngot – a dessert so intriguing though it didn’t call out to us at first sight until some kids on a night out convinced us to buy some.
It’s a rolled up crêpe made up of shredded coconut, sesame seeds, and light sugary candy pieces (sometimes just sugar). Made to order at a food stall. Another simple concoction that delivered a sensation of complex textures and flavor.
And because I have caffeine running through my veins, all meals end with coffee,
June 22, 2015 § Leave a comment
This is what you make when you have an overflow of plums. I love stone fruits, and friends and family know that. So when plums (or peaches and cherries) reach our soil, I sometimes end up with too much. When that happens, this cake will most likely end up in my oven.
A light, moist cake with a citrusy bite that’s great with tea, I served this to friends last year and it was a hit. Not a typical cake in my part of the world and because it was a hit, I thought that you’d like to try something different.
The rains have finally arrived. It was an unbearably hot summer this year and I welcome the downpours. I am still waiting for those plums to reach me but wouldn’t it be nice to stay in on a rainy day and while the time away with a Korean drama series that I’ve become addicted to?
Plum Cake (adapted from 33 Degrees)
You will need:
- 2 eggs, plus 1 extra egg yolk
- 140 grams butter softened
- 140 grams golden castor sugar
- 140 grams all-purpose flour
- 1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- Grated zest and juice of 1 orange
- 200 grams plums, stoned, half roughly chopped into pieces and the other half cut into wedges.
For the topping:
- 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
- 200 grams golden castor sugar
What You Do:
- Preheat your oven to 160ºC/fan oven 140ºC. Grease and line a 1kg loaf tin.
- Lightly beat the eggs, extra egg yolk and the vanilla extract.
- Beat the butter and sugar in a bowl until light and fluffy. You want the butter and sugar to lighten considerably for a good cake.
- Pour in the eggs a little at a time, beating well after each addition.
- Fold in the flour, baking soda, salt, orange zest, 2 tbsp of the juice and lastly the chopped plums.
- Spoon into prepared tin and scatter the plum wedges over the top.
- Bake until cake is golden or until an inserted skewer comes out clean, about 45 – 50 minutes.
- Let it cool for a few moments before turning out onto a wire rack.
- Mix the lemon juice and castor sugar with the remaining orange juice and pour over the cake.
June 2, 2015 § Leave a comment
Ubud. The heartland of Bali where gently rolling rice paddies and volcanic hillsides offer a cinematic backdrop to a land steeped in culture.
Add to this a vibrant dining scene and you can’t keep me away for long. In this wonderland of art and culture, one can eat extremely well whether it be in fine dining spots, warungs or roadside eateries. Global or local, the choice is likewise abundant. Barely scratching the surface on our last visit to Ubud (last year), here’s sharing with you some delightful new discoveries and old favorites.
Campuhan Bridge, Jalan Campuhan, Ubud. +62(0) 361 970 095
Our Ubud escapade started here. Fine dining without the steep price tag tucked neatly along Ubud’s famed Campuhan Bridge.
The elegant multi-level white veranda overlooks the tumbling river through lush greenery. A few small nooks at the corner of the upper dining hall offer uninterrupted views of the river, so I recommend calling ahead for these corners.
The menu is a mix of modern continental with local dishes thrown in, beautifully executed.
Expect salads, pasta, meat dishes and an array of imaginative desserts.
Jalan Raya Sanggingan, Ubud +62(0) 361 977 547
A simple shack this place may be, but the irresistible aroma of pork ribs grilling by the roadside is what will lure you in.
This grill house located halfway along Jalan Raya Sanggingan (and luckily, a stone’s throw away from our wonderful boutique hotel) has as main highlight its pork ribs—succulent and fall-off-the-bone tender.
So pleased with the ribs, we forewent exploring more restaurants for a last bite here before heading to the airport. This might indeed be the best ribs in Bali.
Jalan Hanoman, Padang Tegal, Ubud _62(0) 361 975 489
Bali is known for its duck. Set in beautiful, relaxed surroundings, Bebek Bengil (also known as the Dirty Duck Diner) serves a wonderfully tender and flavorful dirty duck with skin so crispy. Steamed in Balinese spices then deep-fried to crispy perfection.
Another specialty is the Balinese Smoked Duck. This needs to be ordered one day in advance. The duck is smothered with Balinese spices, wrapped in betel nut leaf then slowly smoked the traditional way, which is the whole day.
Warung Pulau Kelapa
Jalan Raya Sanggingan, Lungsiakan, Ubud +62(0) 361 821 5502
This came highly recommended by our guide instead of Bali Guling (Balinese Suckling Pig). I can’t say though that this is a better choice as I have not tried Ibu Oka’s famous suckling roast pig, but I can say that this was one of the best recommendation one can give.
First of the all, the warung is a beautiful, original Javanese village teak wood house with a beautiful herb and vegetable garden at the back.
Ayam Bumbu Rujak: Stewed roasted chicken cooked in a mixture of coconut milk, Indonesian spices, and mild chilis. An East Javanese dish.
The menu is an extensive array of authentic Indonesian dishes taken from different islands cooked without MSG—Bali, Borneo, Sumatra… No disappointment there.
At the back, behind the restroom area is a café where they serve excellent Indonesian coffee. They were test-running and invited us for a free taste of their coffee. We returned the next day to enjoy another round of coffee and dessert, this time we insisted on paying.
Coffee break at Café Angsa
Jalan Hanoman 43, Ubud
All over Ubud, coffee shops with scenic views of the paddy fields abound. Walk into any along Ubud’s three main roads, JL Monkey Forest Road, JL Hanoman, and JL Raya Ubud and enjoy a break from shopping or walking around town. In between shopping, we came across Café Angsa along JL Hanoman.
A cute little café with views of the rice paddies, cushions on the platform makes for a beautiful relaxing rest.
April 16, 2015 § Leave a comment
When was the last time you need to clean out the freezer? Me. Almost always. I’m not very good at managing my purchases and end up buying way too much. Yes, I’m a bit of a hoarder, and I regularly need to clean out the refrigerator.
So I saw some leftover pork strips lingering in a corner of the freezer. Time to get them out of that corner and into our tummies with my tested combination of Chili Bean and Oyster Sauce.
A combination I rely on a lot, be it tofu, or veggies or just ground meat. It (the sauce) tickles the taste buds and is so easy to make. All you need is to combine the two sauces according to your preference, some sugar to balance the saltiness then dilute with water or soup stock if available.
I cut the strips into 1-1/2” approximately, sauté them with garlic in a little oil. Add sliced mushrooms, any should be fine, but I like shiitake or button for the dish. Pour in the chili sauce, let simmer until sauce coats the pork. Top over rice or pasta.
That’s it—a dish in no time, packed with beautiful flavors.
March 23, 2015 § Leave a comment
For the last few years, I’ve wanted without success to try La Terrasse that it has somehow become an obsession.
My first attempt was in 2012; they were closed for the Easter holiday (seriously, on one of the busiest week?). It is, to me, a sign that they don’t really need the tourist patronage.
Suffice to say that when we were planning our trip to Puerto Princesa last January, I had my mind set on this cozy, open-aired restaurant-cafe. And the truth be told, it was our first agenda after touching down. Straight from the airport with bags in tow, there we were at their doorstep.
From the idyllic vibe to the service, appetizer to dessert, La Terrasse did not disappoint.
The duck was superb.
Crispy minced duck in a Hoisin-based sauce combined with cucumber sticks and leeks wrapped in a soft thin pancake adapted from the very popular Peking Duck. We loved it and went back for it on our last day before heading to the airport.
Another memorable dish was the Adobo Overload.
Adobo fried rice served with fried chicken and pork adobo and topped with pork adobo flakes. Now that’s overload in a good way. More importantly, the flavor of the sauce is how I prefer my adobo to be, not too acidic but very flavorful from the blend of soy and garlic. Started serving my adobo the same way. Love the idea of serving the rice already flavored with the adobo sauce.
The killer. Their Palawan nougat made with wild honey and cashew nuts
and their Candied Orange Peel.
It’s really more of a “pasalubong”, something you take home, but we had it for dessert and I was floored, blown-away. I, of course, had to bring back some of these babies for when I need a pick-me-up. That good.
Highly recommended when in Puerto Princesa, do make it a point to drop by La Terrasse. It’s on Rizal Avenue and a hop away from the airport.
February 18, 2015 § 2 Comments
It has been a while, I know. It’s not that I haven’t been around; it’s just that so many things have come to pass; new turn of events had me traveling here and there, back and forth. It had kept me moving about I haven’t had time to tinker around the kitchen. I miss that. And with the many changes occurring lately, all I want to make and have are food that comforts, that reminds of childhood. Food that gives me the warm fuzzies. I used to have a recipe for a Pineapple Upside Down Cake, back in the days when I was baking a lot. Then I stopped and lost all my recipes from my youth. I wish I could claim to have thought to make this because this Brown Butter Pineapple Upside Down Cake is just amazing. The sweet, tangy pineapple and the salty, nutty taste of brown butter took this very classic cake and turned it up a notch. Like my life today, it is a mix of old and new, and me loving the new a lot more that the old.