A dish from those days when life was simple…”pinangat” or “tinuktok”

Pinangat

Pinangat

You can take the girl out of the province but not the province out of the girl. That’s me, still a “probinsiyana” or “province girl” at heart despite living for many years here in Holland and having seen a bit of the world.

In the Philippines where I come from, I grew up in one of the provinces of the Bicol region back in those days when life was simple. From food to the games we played as kids, I can still remember vividly how almost everything was available locally — fish and crustaceans caught from the river to vegetables and spices that were abundantly grown in the backyard. We played with sling shots fashioned from Y-shaped tree branches, we climbed trees and went fishing with hook, line and sinker in the river. Looking at the life we lead nowadays, there is some sort of nostalgia to those good old days.

On this post, I bring you a dish that fills me with longing of the simple life that I know from way back. I can say that this was a poor man’s dish in those days because the ingredients are all sourced out by a poor man from the river for the freshwater shrimp to his backyard for the coconut, taro leaves, ginger, onions, garlic, lemon grass and chillies. Normally, these ingredients cost him next to nothing. The exact opposite is true for me here in Holland in recreating this dish because all the ingredients being imported abroad cost an arm and a leg.

Many calls this dish “pinangat” but in our town’s vernacular, this is called “tinuktok” which literally means finely chopped. And why is that? It is because all the ingredients from the young coconut to the shrimps and spices all needed to be chopped finely with a sharp knife or cleaver.

This dish is simply lovely with the right mix of flavors and spiciness. It stands apart from the mainstream Philippine cuisine to which the Spanish influence is so strong. Served with rice, be ready to eat with your hands!!!

Ingredients:
½ kg freshwater shrimp, peeled and seasoned with 1 ½ tbsp salt
600g meat of young coconut (about 5 young coconuts), grated
2 onions, chopped
2 tbsp. grated ginger
6 cloves garlic
a few pieces of chillies (I used 2 birds’ eye chillies and would have used more if not for the special request of the hubby not to make it super spicy)
20 to 30 fresh taro leaves (should be intact with no holes)
kitchen string with which to tie each pinangat
6 to 8 stalks of lemongrass (lower white portions only), smashed
3 to 4 cups thin coconut milk

Key ingredients:  Taro leaves, coconut milk and coconut cream, shrimps, ginger, lemon grass, chillies, shallots and garlic.

Key ingredients: Taro leaves, coconut milk and coconut cream, shrimps, ginger, lemon grass, chillies, shallots and garlic.

Fresh taro leaves

Fresh taro leaves

For the sauce/ topping:
2 cups thick coconut cream
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 shallots, finely chopped
2 stalks lemongrass (lower white stalks), sliced
salt to taste
3 to 5 spring onions, finely chopped

Instructions:
1. Combine the shrimp, grated young coconut, onion, ginger, garlic and chillies and chop them together using a large knife or cleaver until the mixture looks like cornmeal. I used the food processor for this task.

Peeled shrimps, grated young coconut meat, chillies, garlic, ginger and onions ready for fine chopping with a very sharp knife or cleaver.  Food processor is an easy option...

Peeled shrimps, grated young coconut meat, chillies, garlic, ginger and onions ready for fine chopping with a very sharp knife or cleaver. Food processor is an easy option…

Finely chopped ingredients resembling a coarse corn meal -- ready for wrapping in taro leaves.

Finely chopped ingredients resembling a coarse corn meal — ready for wrapping in taro leaves.

2. Wrap 2 to 3 tablespoons of the mixture in two (overlapping) taro leaves and tie each with a kitchen string. I did not have kitchen string so I made use of the stalk of the taro leaves.

Two to three tablespoons of the shrimp mixture in two overlapping taro leaves

Two to three tablespoons of the shrimp mixture in two overlapping taro leaves

Pinangat all ready for cooking in coconut milk.

Pinangat all ready for cooking in coconut milk.

3. Line a heavy-bottom pot with the smashed lemongrass and arrange the pinangat pieces on top. Pour the thin coconut milk over the pinangat.

The pot lined with smashed lemongrass

The pot lined with smashed lemongrass

Pinangat piled on the bed of lemon grass and ready to be cooked with coconut milk.

Pinangat piled on the bed of lemon grass and ready to be cooked with coconut milk.

4. Cover the pot and simmer over low heat, shaking it once in a while to prevent burning. The pinangat is done when the taro leaves are already soft or when all of the thin coconut milk has evaporated.

The pinangat gently cooking in coconut milk.

The pinangat gently cooking in coconut milk.

Almost cooked...

Almost cooked…

5. While the pinangat is cooking, boil together in a separate saucepan the thick coconut cream, garlic, shallots and lemon grass. Season with salt and simmer until the mixture resembles a thick creamy sauce. Sprinkle the spring onions on top and remove from heat.To serve, arrange the pinangat in a wide platter and top with the sauce.

Ingredients for the topping/sauce:  finely chopped garlic, shallots, sliced lemon grass, spring onions and chillies.

Ingredients for the topping/sauce: finely chopped garlic, shallots, sliced lemon grass, spring onions and chillies.

Cooking the coconut cream to which garlic, onions, lemon grass will be added.  Final addition is the spring onions.

Cooking the coconut cream to which garlic, onions, lemon grass will be added. Final addition is the spring onions.

Pinangat up close...simply so yummy!

Pinangat up close…simply so yummy!

Caramel popcorn

Caramel popcorn

Caramel popcorn

I love popcorn but my preference is for the sweet version, preferably caramel popcorn. My husband at first thought of sweet popcorn as very weird and so did his parents. Anyway, since I was really missing sweet popcorn, I scoured the internet for an easy recipe. There were quite a lot of versions and most of them require light corn syrup (typical American) which is not an easy ingredient to find in Holland as supermarkets do not sell them. I could get them from the Asian shops which sell most of the sought after imported foodstuffs.

I didn’t know what to expect from this caramel popcorn recipe but the good reviews were enough to motivate me. Compared to the other recipes that I’ve seen which require baking the popcorn after pouring the caramel a further hour, this recipe was quick and straight forward. Took me less than 15 minutes from popping the corn till the finished product, I was pleasantly surprised by the result. Even my skeptical husband and parents-in-law became instant fans of this caramel popcorn. Warning: A calorie bomb with its ingredients of butter and sugar so be careful as it is so easy to keep on eating especially while watching a nice movie on TV…

Ingredients:

Popcorn
1/4 cup cooking oil
1/2 cup popcorn

Caramel
3/4 cup sugar
125 grams butter
2 tablespoons honey
pinch of salt
1 cup pecans, roughly chopped (optional)

Instructions
1. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. When hot enough, add the popcorn. Cover with tight-fitting lid. Shake the pan gently when the corn starts popping. Remove from heat when the corn starts popping. Transfer to a large bowl, discarding any unpopped corn.

Plain popcorn - popped from 1/2 cup raw popcorn and 1/4 cup oil

Plain popcorn – popped from 1/2 cup raw popcorn and 1/4 cup oil

2. Make caramel. Combine butter, sugar, honey and salt in a saucepan over medium heat. Cook, bring to the boil, uncovered and without stirring for 5 to 7 minutes or until amber colored.

Caramel is made from 125 grams butter, 3/4 cup sugar, 2 tbsps. honey and a pinch of salt

Caramel is made from 125 grams butter, 3/4 cup sugar, 2 tbsps. honey and a pinch of salt

Caramel is done when it reaches amber color, around 5 to 7 minutes over medium heat

Caramel is done when it reaches amber color, around 5 to 7 minutes over medium heat

3. Remove from heat. Pour caramel over popcorn and stir until popcorn is coated. Set aside to cool. Break into pieces.

Caramel is poured over the popcorn until evenly coated

Caramel is poured over the popcorn until evenly coated

Nature-tripping at Pelagaccio

Busy bee in action

Apologies for the long absence on my blog. Busy times on both the home and work fronts leave me with hardly any time to sit in front of the pc these days. My husband have to work a great deal of time these days in Belgium so I had to cope with many shared parenting duties single-handedly.

I bring you back to Tuscany which I still remember with so much fondness. The days when we were not out sightseeing were spent lazily by the pool or in my case, indulging in nature-tripping. I love observing the many butterflies and bees out there which are busy hopping among the lavender blooms. The various flowers and ripening fruits also find their way into my camera as well as the simple sight of the Tuscan landscape.

I miss those days under the warm Tuscan sun and the simple pleasures of lunch with bruschettas downed with chilled Italian white wine to the dinner of grilled chicken and beef. The little girl misses the long days of playing under the sun and into the night together with her new friends.

Pale yellow Tuscan roses

Red Tuscan roses

Tangerine Tuscan rose

Butterfly on lavender blooms

Busy bee

Busy bee

Another sort of nectar sucker

A dragonfly

Butterfly on lavender blooms

Butterfly with wings wide open

Busy bee

Bare Tuscan hills after the wheat harvest

Bare Tuscan hills after the wheat harvest

Yellow blooms against the blue sky

Ripening fruits

Ripening fruits

Ripening fruits

Bruschettas

Bruschetta topping – chopped ripe tomatoes with olive oil, salt, pepper and parsley

Chilled white wine to down the lovely bruschettas = perfect lunch

The Grill Master

Grilling T-bone steak marinated in finely chopped garlic and rosemary together with salt, pepper and olive oil

Grilled chicken and T-bone steak

Fun on the swing

Fun with friends

Laid-back life under the Tuscan sun

Misty morning

After a busy day in Florence and staying late for the pizza party and the subsequent football match, we took it easy the following day, just stayed at Pelagaccio, went for a dip at the pool and simply enjoyed the laid-back Tuscan life away from the pressures of work and the rigors of daily life.

I oftentimes had to be reminded to take it easy once in a while and as we were here for two weeks, there was plenty of time still for sightseeing. Francesca’s needs should also be given top consideration. Hers were different from our own and the trips to busy places were not her thing. She just loves it here choosing among several alternatives at her disposal – swimming at the pool, playing at the playground, cycling on her trike or assembling her lego blocks and puzzles.

It was again a very misty morning and I’ve been meaning since a few days ago to take some pictures of this phenomenon. It was always misty in the morning due to the temperature drop during the night and it was amazing to observe how the mist eventually disappeared as the fierce Tuscan sun made its way.

What a lovely sight to see when the hills were all covered in mist, even Pelagaccio was hardly visible from the pool which was but a few yards away. I found myself taking pictures not just of the landscape around me but of the flowers which after the routine morning watering looked like they had just been kissed by the rain.

After breakfast, it was time for a dip in the pool. I joined for a short while but did not linger because my left foot which has blister from previous day’s hike over the hills (I did not wear proper shoes in that hike) was irritated by the lightly salted pool water. I don’t know why but the pool water here was a bit salty. Francesca as usual, had a grand time especially when opa and oma later came and joined in on the fun.

I volunteered to instead prepare lunch, inspired by the meal I had in Florence the day before. We still had left over bread from which I could make the bruschetta. From the grocery this morning, I got some parsley and tomatoes. Wow, lunch turned out to be a great success!

To make the bruschetta, I sliced the bread to about half an inch thickness and sprinkled that with extra virgin olive oil and added a small amount of finely chopped garlic. In essence, bruschetta is garlic bread. I fried/roasted the bread in a flat-bellied Teflon pan till it was brown and crispy. For the toppings, I chopped some tomatoes, added some finely chopped garlic and parsley, extra virgin olive oil and seasoned that with salt and pepper. With some chilled white wine to down the bruschetta al pomodori with, we all had a great fill and then it was time for the afternoon siesta.

At about 5pm, hubby and Francesca were again back at the pool for that before dinner swim to create some appetite especially for the little girl who has all the time for playing but no time for food. She reminded me of my own childhood where when the opportunity to play arises, eating and other considerations would surely take a back seat. Oh well, we had to make the most of this opportunity which is not an every day thing. Having a pool at our disposal, a playground and to top it all, the time to unwind and forget the rigors of daily life are rare pleasures for which we should spare time to savor.

Dinner that night was hubby’s turf – pasta. He made used of penne and prepared a very yummy red sauce made from sautéing garlic, onions, tinned peeled tomatoes and some leftover salami. He got some dried mushrooms from the grocery this morning but did not use that because it required 20 minutes soaking in cold water for which he had no time. There was also no basil leaves from that small shop so he made use of parsley which was just as nice. On the side was the mozzarella cheese with fresh tomatoes sprinkled with olive oil, salt and pepper and topped with more chopped parsley. I made some more garlic bread from the leftovers. A bottle of chilled white wine proved to be an excellent companion to our splendid dinner under the trees.

Visibility of just a few meters — the mist shrouds the hills farther

Misty morning

The sun peering through the mist

Misty morning … hills in the distance not visible

View of the Tuscan countryside once the mist was gone

pink blooms

Pale yellow Tuscan rose

Pink Tuscan rose

Pink oleander

Courgette bloom

Orange daisy

Pale yellow Tuscan rose

Unripe grapes

Rosebud

Drops

A spider in its web

A yellow butterfly perched on lavender blooms

A white butterfly

White butterfly in transit

Busy bee

Busy bee

Father and daughter at the pool

Little girl and oma

Little girl and oma

Pool fun with the grandparents

Hubby on the inflatable dolphin

The dolphin flipped over ;-)

The little girl has more expertise on handling the dolphin than her father

Francesca with opa and oma

Bruschetta made from leftover bread

Hubby’s version of salade caprese

Penne with tomato sauce and salami

Everyone’s favorite Chinese egg rolls (Lumpias)

Chinese egg rolls

This recipe is lifted from Steamy Kitchen and ever since the first time I tried these egg rolls, I’ve never made them any other way. Being Asian, I love spring rolls and in the Philippines, we have several versions. I’ve been making 2 versions of spring rolls for as long as I can remember, the vegetable version and the minced meat version and both have been very popular. Last year, I’ve decided to be more adventurous in the kitchen by trying out new recipes and new ways of doing the dishes that I’ve learned from way back.

I came across Steamy Kitchen while in search for the recipe of Vietnamese Pho and became so excited when in searching the site, I saw a lot of interesting new recipes. I tried these egg rolls and was amazed at how wonderful the combination of flavors were from the ginger, sesame oil, a bit of sugar, soy sauce, rice wine and shitake mushrooms. Soon, I was making these egg rolls in huge quantities as they became huge favorites of family, friends and colleagues.

Last Saturday, I made huge quantities again and they are now in the freezer, saved for the upcoming family reunion on my mom-in-law’s side of the family. They are big fans of my egg rolls and introducing them to this new version with amazing flavors will surely be a big success no doubt.

Ingredients:
50 Spring/Egg Roll Wrappers (about 2 packages), defrosted unopened at room temperature for 45 minutes or in the refrigerator overnight
1 tablespoon cornstarch (or flour) mixed with ¼ cup of cool water
Oil, for frying

FOR THE GROUND PORK
1 pound ground pork
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon sugar
freshly ground black pepper

FOR THE VEGETABLES
2 to 3 cloves garlic, very finely minced
½ head of cabbage (about 11 ounces)
3 carrots, shredded
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
10 fresh shiitake mushrooms (or dried black mushrooms soaked overnight), stems discarded
1 tablespoon cooking oil (canola, vegetable, peanut)
1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sesame oil
Freshly ground black pepper

Directions:
1. To make the filling, combine the ingredients for the ground pork together. Marinate at least 10 minutes. In the meantime, shred the cabbage and the carrots using your food processor or by hand. Slice the mushrooms into very thin strips (or you could use your food processer and pulse a few times to get a fine dice.

To the ground pork meat, add the corn starch, soy sauce, sugar, ground pepper, mix well and marinate for at least 10 minutes.

Shred the cabbage using the food processor or by hand.

Shred the carrots using the food processor or cut them in matchsticks size. Other ingredients are finely minced garlic, grated ginger and thinly sliced shitake mushrooms.

2. Heat a wok or large saute pan over high heat. Add the cooking oil and swirl to coat. Add the pork and stir-fry until no longer pink, about 2-3 minutes. Turn heat to medium-low, push the meat to one side of the pan. Add the garlic, cabbage, carrots, ginger and the mushrooms and stir-fry for 1 minute, until the vegetables are softened. Add the rice wine, soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil and black pepper. Continue to stir-fry for another minute. Scoop out the filling to a baking sheet and spread out to cool. Prop up one end of the baking sheet so that it tilts and will allow all the moisture to drain to one end. Let cool for 15 minutes.

To the hot oil, add the pork to stir-fry.

Stir-fry the pork until no longer pink, about 2-3 minutes

Set aside the meat to one side of the pan and add the garlic, ginger, carrots, cabbage and mushrooms and stir-fry for 1 minute or until the vegetables are softened.

Add the rice wine, soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, salt and black pepper.

Continue to stir for another minute and then the filling is done. Check the taste and add some more soy sauce or salt if needed to meet desired taste.

3. Discard all of the accumulated juices. Drain in a strainer.

IMPORTANT: Only use 1 heaping tablespoon of filling for each egg roll. These are slender egg rolls, the width of the egg roll should only be 1.25″ diameter.

Discard all of the accumulated juices. Drain in a strainer.

WRAPPING:

Use 1 heaping tablespoon of filling for each egg roll.

Lift the bottom corner up and begin rolling until you reach halfway up.

Fold over the left side, and then the right side towards the center.

Continue folding up with a tuck-roll tuck-roll motion. Dip your fingers into the cornstarch slurry and brush all over the final top corner. Finish up the roll and seal.

The finished egg roll

Keep the rolled egg rolls in neat, single layer and covered with plastic wrap to prevent drying. If you want to stack the egg rolls, make sure you have layer of parchment paper in between the layers to prevent sticking. Keep wrappers also covered with plastic wrap to prevent drying. Refrigerate up to 4 hours until ready to fry or freeze.

4. To fry the egg rolls, fill a wok or pot with 2 inches of high-heat cooking oil. Heat the oil to 350°F (175°C) or until a cube of bread will fry to golden brown within 10 seconds. Gently slide in or lower the egg rolls, frying 4 to 6 at a time, turning occasionally until golden brown about 1½ minutes. Place on wire rack to drain and cool.

Frying the egg rolls in a pan

Egg rolls are done when they turn golden brown

Place on wire rack or paper towels to drain extra oil.

Serve with chili sauce (or I make a sauce from combining soy sauce, vinegar, sugar and freshly ground pepper).

NOTE: To fry frozen egg rolls, do not defrost the egg rolls – just add them to the oil frozen, frying 4 to 6 at a time. Add an additional 1½ minutes to the frying time since they are frozen.

A cake that brings memories of home — Orange Chiffon Cake

A slice of chiffon cake - my idea of perfect comfort food

Living in another country does bring moments of homesickness for things familiar. There are days when I simply miss the flavors of home. One of the food stuffs that I really love and miss is the Orange Chiffon Cake. It is the cake that I know from childhood, the cake that I can eat any time of the day. Before the advent of the fancy cakes like chocolate cakes, cheesecakes, apple cakes, etc., there was only the Chiffon Cake that I know of. It is a typical birthday fare for no birthday celebration will be complete without Chiffon Cake and the usual rice or egg noodles, spaghetti (Philippine style), spring rolls, barbeques, marshmallows and hotdogs on sticks, fried chicken, etc.

These days, this simple Chiffon Cake had been eclipsed by the more fancy cakes which are often too rich due to too much butter and lots of whipped cream. I can’t help but long for the simple Chiffon Cake which is light, fluffy and quite refreshing.

After a bit of search on the internet, I finally found the version of the Chiffon Cake I remember. I struggled a bit in getting the right ingredients because the Dutch supermarkets do not have stuffs like cream of tartar. I checked some online expat forums on the internet and learned that this cream of tartar and other exotic ingredients like baking soda and shortening are available at the Tokos (the Asian stores). I wasted no time in getting my ingredients and has since then, been baking Chiffon Cake on an almost regular basis. Why? Because friends, colleagues, family and neighbors who have tasted this chiffon cake fell in love with it at first bite.

Here are the ingredients:
2-1/2 cups cake flour*, sifted
3/4 cup sugar
3 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup oil (vegetable oil or corn oil)
7 egg yolks, at room temperature
3/4 cup orange juice
rind of one medium sized orange
7 egg whites, at room temperature
1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
3/4 cup sugar

*Cake Flour can be substituted by replacing 2 tablespoons of sifted flour with 2 tablespoons of corn starch per 1 cup of sifted all purpose flour.

Cooking Procedures:

1. Preheat oven to 350F (176C). Prepare 10-inch ungreased tube pan.
2. Sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a bowl.

3. Make a well at the center of the sifted flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. All the egg yolk, oil, orange juice and orange rind.

4. With a stand or electric hand mixer, beat the mixture until smooth and no lumps occur. Set aside.

5. With a stand mixer or electric hand mixer, beat egg whites until frothy. Add the cream of tartar. Continue to beat on high until soft peaks begin to form. Add sugar very gradually and continuously beating until meringue is glossy and stiff.

6. Gently fold the egg yolk mixture into the meringue until well blended, ensuring that you scrap the bottom of the bowl as you fold.

7. Pour into prepared ungreased tube pan.

8. Bake until golden and middle springs back when touched for about 45 to 50 minutes.

9. Invert onto the neck of a bottle. Cool completely upside down.

Chiffon Cake

Slices of chiffon cake

Buttered fish with coriander, nuts and spring onions

Buttered fish with coriander, nuts and spring onions served with steamed rice and a slice of lemon

The Dutch are quite freaky with food. Fish, meat and poultry should as much as possible be hardly recognizable from their original state — no heads, tails, bones and fins. To Filipinos (Pinoys) like me who grew up savoring fish with skin, head, tails and all, I find it not so nice to eat the almost white mass that is fish fillet after removing all the parts where all the flavors come from. Here in Holland, fish at supermarkets will be in fillet form and that’s a given. When I really want to eat fish in Pinoy fashion, I go to the open market but have to ask the fish vendor that cleaning the fish for me is just removing the scales and gills but the head and skin have to remain intact.

Anyway, let me share here with you a fish recipe using the flavorless fillet. This one’s a winner as the amazing flavors from coriander, spring onions, butter and nuts sensationally come out and redeem the lost value of any fish fillet.

On this dish, you will need the following:

Fish fillet
Salt and pepper
Coriander leaves
Spring onions
Nuts (hazelnuts or peanuts)
Butter

This dish tastes sensational and all you need is steamed rice and a slice of lemon to squeeze over the fish.

I normally get the frozen fish fillet from the grocery. I let that thaw at room temperature but when I am in a hurry such as in this instance, I just let the microwave speed up the job for me. Next to that, I season the fillet on both sides with salt and pepper.

Fish fillet seasoned with salt and pepper

Thinly sliced spring onions, ground peanuts and finely chopped coriander

Let butter softened at room temperature, add all the ingredients (coriander, nuts, spring onions) and make a paste and then coat the fish fillet on both sides.

The paste of butter, herbs and nuts spread on the fish fillet

Place the coated fish in an oven-proof dish and baked at 220 degrees Celsius for 20 minutes or until the fish is cooked and the top is brown. Another option if you have a combi oven/magnetron is to use the grill.

Straight out from the oven oozing with that glorious smell

The Latin American favorite cookies called “Alfajores”

Alfajores

Up till I work with my manager who hails from Uruguay, I never heard of Alfajores. On her trip back to her country to visit her parents, she would normally hand-carry these delicate cookies all the way from Uruguay which is not a direct flight but passing through either Brazil or Argentina for her connecting flight to Amsterdam.

It was love at first bite when she introduced these cookies to me sometime ago and I would normally look forward to her trip back with these cookies. I got very curious that I decided that maybe this is not such a complicated recipe after all. I was right, this is indeed very simple as it just involves making the shortbread cookies, filling that with the dulce de leche and presto, I have my alfajores.

I got the recipe for shortbread cookies from my favorite Joy of Baking site.

Here are the ingredients:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 cup (226 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. salt
dash of nutmeg (optional and this is my own tweak to this recipe)

Filling:
1 can Dulce de Leche or caramel
1 cup toasted coconut

Pre-heat oven to 350F (177C). Bake the cookies for 8-10 minutes or until they are lightly brown on the sides.

Flour mixture is flour with salt and nutmeg.

1. In a bowl, beat the butter (with an electric mixer of a hand mixer) until smooth and creamy for about a minute.

2. Add the confectioner's sugar and beat until smooth for about 2 minutes.

3. Beat in the vanilla extract.

4. Add the flour mixture.

5. And stir until just incorporated.

6. The dough should now be flattened and wrapped in a plastic film, chilled for at least an hour in the fridge or until firm.

7. Using a rolling pin, flatten the dough to about 1/4 inch thickness.

8. Cut into hearts, rounds or other shapes.

My little helper enjoys the cookie-cutting process.

9. Place on the prepared baking sheet and put back on the fridge for about 10-15 minutes. This will firm up the dough so the cookies will maintain their shape when baked. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until the cookies are very lightly browned. Cool on a wire rack.


The filling is Dulce de Leche or caramel.

Which I am combining with toasted coconut.

10. Spread a generous amount of dulce de leche on one cookie and topped that with the toasted coconut.

My favorite custard cake

The custard cake


There is no denying to the Spanish influence in Philippine cuisine. Well, 333 years of colonial rule is something so every aspect of Philippine life has bits and pieces of that moment in our history. Too bad that we do not speak Spanish as a major language compared to the Latin Americans but many Philippine words are derived from Spanish.

One of the Spanish desserts that I love so much is the flan or creme caramel. When I was a child, I could only get to taste it at wedding parties or fiestas. The flan is really heaven to me then and even now. I just love that combination of the sweet caramel sauce and the creamy smooth flan, hence, I made it my mission to learn how to make it and master it. I’ve been making flan for a long time and it has actually become one of the most sought after desserts by friends and family. I decided that I need to bring this flan to the next level and that is the custard cake.

I started baking quite seriously only last year. Not that I enrolled in some baking class but just self-taught myself and scoured the internet for recipes. I started with recipes of food I remember from the Philippines and took off from there. I was so happy to stumble upon the site of Casa Veneracion and her recipe of the perfect custard cake. With a bit of experience on the individual components (custard and chiffon cake), I did a bit of tweaking but for the rest, I copied her recipe. What I like so much about this recipe is that the cake and flan are on 50/50 level compared to the ones in the Philippines where the flan is all but a very thin layer. To flan lovers like me, this is the perfect treat! ;-)

I made this cake for the first time on my birthday last year and brought it to the office for my colleagues who were stunned. They couldn’t believe that I made this myself. Here in Holland, the tradition is to bring cake on one’s birthday. The Dutch normally brings the apple pie or “vlaai” bought from the baker which are normally oozing with lots of whipped cream. I decided to be different on my birthday, bringing something homemade.

To make this cake, I divided the process into 3 parts: caramel, custard and cake.

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (177 degrees Celsius). This cake is baked au bain marie so fill a deep baking tray with half a level of hot water.

Caramel:
Ingredients:
1 1/4 cup granulated white sugar
1/4 cup water

Instructions:
1. Make the caramel. Place the sugar and water in a thick bottomed pan. Turn the heat to high and bring the water and sugar to the boil without stirring. Then lower the heat to medium-high and continue boiling. After about 8 minutes, the mixture will start to brown. Continue boiling until the liquid is the color of amber.
2. Pour the caramel in your baking tray. I am using a deep Pyrex oven bowl (either the 8 x 8 or the lasagna bowl will do).

Boiling the granulated white sugar and water to make the caramel

The sugar on its way to caramelization

Cooking the sugar until it turns amber

The caramel poured onto an oven proof bowl to cool down

Custard:
Ingredients:

5 large (or 6 medium) eggs (yolks and whites)
1 can condensed milk (397 gram)
1 can skimmed or full milk (397 gram)
1/4 cup white sugar
Finely grated rind and juice of 1 mandarin or 1/2 orange or citroen

Instructions:
1. In a bowl, beat the eggs.
2. Add the sugar, condensed and skimmed milks.
3. Add the mandarin or orange or citroen juice and the finely grated rind.
4. Pour on top of the cooled caramel.

The eggs

The custard poured over the caramel

Chiffon cake:
Ingredients:

3 large eggs, yolks and whites separated
1/4 cup minus 1 tbsp. granulated white sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 tbsp. canola oil
3/4 cup sifted cake flour
1/4 cup skimmed milk
1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
1/4 cup minus 1 tbsp. granulated white sugar

Instructions:
Cake mixture:

1. In a bowl, beat the egg yolks with the 1/4 cup minus 1 tbsp. sugar until smooth and lemon colored.
2. Sift the flour and baking powder.
3. Add the milk and flour alternately, mixing after each addition.
4. Add the oil and beat thoroughly.

The cake mixture

Meringue (egg white mixture):
5. In another bowl, add the cream of tartar to the egg white and with the hand mixer, beat at high speed until the egg whites turn foamy.
6. Add yhe sugar little by little and continue beating until the egg white mixture is stiff.
7. Slowly fold in the cake mixture using a rubber spatula. Do this slowly until the cake and meringue are well blended.
8. Pour the combined cake and meringue mixture over the flan. The cake mixture is light and airy so it will float over the custard mix.
9. Baked au bain marie at 350F (177C) for 50 to 55 minutes or until a toothpick when inserted at the center of the cake comes out clean.
10. Allow to cool down and then chill in the fridge.
11. To serve, using a knife, trace the side of the cake. Take a plate that can hold the cake and place it upside down on top of the oven bowl. With one hand under the oven bowl and the other hand on top of the plate, invert the cake onto the plate.

The meringue (stiff egg whites) about to be mixed with the cake mixture

Folding the cake mixture into the meringue

The custard cake being baked au bain marie

Cooling the custard cake

Cross-section of the perfect custard cake - 50/50 flan and cake

Bicol express: one spicy Philippine dish named after a train service

A cold snap is currently chilling Europe these days and the mercury has dropped and stayed at sub-zero levels in the last couple of days. At times like these, there is nothing that I like more than to eat something hot and spicy, something familiar. What came to mind was a very special dish from the Philippines (my home country) and specifically from the region where I come from, Bicol. This dish is called “Bicol Express”, coined from the train service that runs from Manila to the Bicol region. What makes this dish special even in the Philippines is its spiciness and use of coconut milk because in general, Philippine dishes are not spicy but lean more to the Spanish influence due to the ties with Spain which colonized the country for over 300 years.

The Bicol Express


When I first came to Holland, I didn’t know that making this dish will be a big thing to my in-laws, friends and colleagues. I made it for myself then for comfort especially when I start to pine for things back home. After introducing it to the people here, it became the most anticipated dish whenever we had gatherings.

The dish is simple and had very few ingredients which in many ways, make its taste pure compared to spicy curries for instance.

For this dish, I used the following ingredients:

700 grams pork belly cut in cubes
2 tin cans of coconut milk (I would have used coconut cream but didn’t have that on hand)
6 cloves garlic
1 onion, sliced
6 pieces long chillies, sliced
freshly ground pepper
Salted tiny shrimps (This provides the special flavor and if not available, can be substituted by shrimp paste but salt should be added.)

The chillies used for the Bicol Express


The ingredients: pork, chillies, garlic, onion, coconut milk, salted tiny shrimp

Cooking instructions:

Sautee the garlic and onion

Add the pork meat

Add the coconut milk

Let the stew simmer for a while

Add the salted tiny shrimps, check the taste as this is the seasoning used. No need to add salt.

When the dish is almost done, add the chillies

Let it cook for a short while

The Bicol Express

Serve with steamed/boiled white rice and some vegetable (boiled broad beans in this case)

Thai-inspired minced beef with ginger

Thai-inspired minced beef with ginger


This dish is something I learned from my very good Thai friend Lek. We are friends from way back to our days working for an American chemical company in The Hague over a decade ago. At that time, we were still in the process of integrating into the Dutch way of life food-wise. Because we both love to cook, we struggled with eating the food served at the canteen which were not to our liking. Thus, we started bringing packed lunch of rice and Asian viands to work which we would normally share.

I learned a few dishes from her like the red and green curries as well as this dish. Of course, I also did a bit of tweaking to make this my own, adding chopped coriander and sliced mushroom so that makes them optional add-ons.

This minced beef dish is wonderful especially given the aromatic taste of the ginger which is used quite liberally. One word of caution though: Ensure that the ginger is thinly julienned and fried well (not raw).

Ginger, coriander, garlic, onion, chilies, mushroom


Ground/minced beef


Ingredients:
300 grams minced/ground beef
1.5 inch ginger, thinly julienned
1 onion, roughly chopped
I clove garlic, minced
2 tbsps. cooking oil
Freshly ground pepper
Fish sauce
1/2 tsp. sugar
Chopped coriander (optional)
Mushroom, sliced (optional)

Cooking instructions:
1. Heat up the oil and add the ginger. Fry until slightly brown.

1. Heat up the oil and add the ginger. Fry until slightly brown.


2. Add the onions and garlic and stir until onion is almost translucent.

Add the garlic and onions and stir until onion is almost translucent


3. Add the mushrooms and continue stirring. Add a bit of oil if the mushrooms get a bit dry.

Add mushrooms to the ginger, onions and garlic


4. When mushrooms are slightly brown, add the minced beef and continue stirring until beef is no longer pink. Add the slices of chilies.

Add the ground beef once the mushrooms has slightly browned


When beef is no longer pink, add the chilies


5. Season with fish sauce, sugar and freshly ground pepper.
6. Topped with chopped coriander and serve with boiled rice.

Thai-inspired minced beef with ginger

My version of the crispy fried chicken

To complement the chicken tinola, fried chicken is always a good choice. Expect the hubby and the in-laws to over-eat as simply this combination of dishes is just perfect especially on a chilly and rainy day.

This fried chicken is crispy and so full of flavor. The use of the citroen juice ensures that the flavors penetrate the chicken and not just on the outside as with most fried chicken.

Crispy fried chicken


My version of the fried chicken is easy and simple, the ingredients are few and very basic so that the flavors remain distinct.

Ingredients:
1 kilo chicken thighs, cut in pieces
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
6-8 tbsps. fish sauce
Black pepper, finely grounded
Juice from 1 citroen
Cooking oil

Cooking Instructions:
1. Marinate the chicken for an hour or two in the following: fish sauce, lemon juice, finely chopped/pressed garlic, ground pepper.

Chicken pieces marinated in garlic, fish sauce, lemon juice, black pepper


2. Fry the chicken over medium heat until brown and crispy.

Frying the chicken

An improvised version of Filipino Chicken Tinola

Chicken tinola


This tinola dish together with my version of the fried chicken (which is marinated with a lot of finely chopped garlic) is such a big hit with my husband and in-laws. Even my father-in-law who is not that fond of garlic, forgets his usual prejudice on the tasty and crispy fried chicken.

Tinola is a kind of chicken stew that is so common in the Philippines. Over there, the key ingredients apart from the chicken are ginger, unripe papaya and chili leaves.

Cabbage, potatoes, onions, ginger, garlic


My version of the chicken tinola here in Holland is an improvised one because some of the ingredients like the unripe papaya costs an arm and a leg if I get them from the Toko (Asian shops). Oftentimes this papaya also comes half ripe already which is not good and the chili leaves are just difficult to source out (either I plant one myself or use the ornamental chili leaves from the plant shops).

Resourcefulness is OK. Instead of papaya, I substitute that with potatoes and the chili leaves with cabbage and this dish still comes out tasting so delicious so long as the key ingredient which is ginger is not omitted.

Ingredients:
Chicken cut in pieces (I used 3 pieces but feel free to use more)
1 onion, sliced
3 cloves garlic, pounded coursely
2-inch ginger, sliced or pounded coursely
Cabbage, 1/2 head cut in big pieces
4 pcs. medium-sized potatoes
2 tbsps. oil
Fish sauce (patis)
Black pepper, finely grounded

Cooking instructions:
1. In a deep saucepan, heat up 2 tbsps oil. Add the ginger and sautee for a minute or until slightly brown. Add the garlic and sautee further until slightly brown. Add the onions and continue sauteeing until translucent.

Saute the ginger in the hot oil till slightly brown


Add the garlic...then the onions


2. Add the chicken and let it fry a bit on the spices for a minute or two. Put the lid of the saucepan on.

Add the chicken pieces


3. Add a bit of the fish sauce to the chicken. Add water until the chicken is covered. Add the potatoes too. Let it boil until the chicken and potatoes are cooked.

Add water and potatoes and simmer until cooked


4. When the chicken and potatoes are cooked, removed the potatoes for a while to avoid it getting overcooked. Add the cabbage and let it simmer for a few minutes. When cabbage is cooked, add back the potatoes. Check the taste and if still a bit bland, add some more fish sauce.
5. Serve with boiled rice. You can also have as another side dish, the crispy fried chicken. (Recipe to follow).

Eet smakelijk!

Creamy potato, leeks and carrot soup

Potato, leeks and carrots soup

For yesterday’s dinner, I have to raid the fridge because I didn’t want to bravely confront the storm on my bike. The fridge revealed the following: potatoes, leeks and carrots (leftover from the bag of carrots I used for the carrot cake I made for the hubby on his birthday). I happened to still have one chicken breast as well and there was still creme fraiche.

Potatoes, leeks and carrots


Chicken breast and garlic


Why not make a creamy soup from these ingredients which would be perfect for dinner on a cold and stormy winter day.

So here is how I went about with my creamy soup…

Ingredients:
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
4 pieces medium sized potatoes, cubed
1 piece leeks, sliced to about 1/2 cm. thickness
1 piece carrots, roughly chopped
1 piece chicken breast, cut in few big chunks
2 tablespoons olive oil
5 cups water
Creme fraiche (optional)

Instructions:
1. In a heavy bottomed saucepan, heat up the olive oil and add the chicken breast to fry for about 2 minutes. Then add the garlic and leeks and stir constantly until a bit cooked for about 1 minute.

Sauteeing the leeks, garlic and chicken


2. Add the potatoes and carrots and continue stirring for another 2 more minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Adding the potatoes and carrots


3. Add the water and at high heat, bring to a boil. Lower the heat to low and continue boiling for 1.5 hours.

Water added to the sauteed vegetables and chicken and will boil slowly for 1.5 hours


4. Remove the chicken chunks and with a food processor or blender, you can puree the potatoes and carrots. Add back the chicken and serve with creme fraiche.

Soup went nicely with the sliced of freshly baked bread slathered with creamy butter.

As we say in Dutch, “Eet smakelijk”!

Baking my own bread

We’re having a very stormy weather today. Just the kind of weather for staying inside the house curled up on the sofa and watching something on TV. I’m glad that today happened to be my day off to look after my little girl so I didn’t need to brave the rain and wind in going to Amsterdam.

I also have to raid the pantry and the fridge to come up with something for dinner. No, I’m not going to dare to go to the supermarket with Francesca on the bike to pick up the groceries. Today is one of those days where I need to be resourceful and inventive.

I always have a lot of stuffs in the store room which at times I completely forget to use and would need to eventually throw away because they are already past their expiry dates. Thus, today is an opportune time to check what I still have.

There is nothing more satisfying than to be able to bake one’s own bread. Baking bread is not my line as I grew up with special fondness for rice. However, I want to try this bread baking avenue this year. Last year, my challenge was on baking cakes and cookies which I have now successfully conquered.

I’ve so far tried two other bread types: the Irish soda bread which is actually very easy and does not require kneading and yeast and the no knead bread that I stumbled upon from Steamy Kitchen but that required a long wait.

The ingredients of bread are simple (flour, salt, yeast, water and sugar) but it is the trick on how to make all these simple ingredients come together especially the working of the yeast that will make or break a good bread so to speak.

I happened to have all the ingredients on hand so I decided that today, I’ll give bread baking a try. I searched the web for the simple bread recipe and Jamie Oliver’s version popped up. Since I have nothing but good experience when I tried his slow roasted pork shoulder, I opted to try his recipe.

Simple wholegrain bread


Here’s the link to the recipe: http://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/bread-recipes/basic-bread-recipe

His recipe though did not show the time and temperature needed so I have to guess from the thread of discussions in this link. I decided to have the temperature at 204 degrees Celsius (400 degrees Fahrenheit) as suggested by one of the comments and initially set the time for 20 minutes. I was a bit hesitant that maybe the inside of the bread is not yet baked so I added an extra 10 minutes to the baking time.

Hmmmm…bread just smells great and I can’t wait to have it with the potato, leeks and carrot soup which I also came up with from the raid of the fridge.

And don’t forget that creamy butter to slather the bread, yum!

Whole wheat flour


Kneading process


Setting the dough aside to rise


The dough has risen twice its size after 30 minutes


Ready for baking


My bread


Cooling the bread

How to make peanut brittle

I have actually forgotten about this sweet until my mom-in-law made a special request last Christmas as this is her favorite and she haven’t had it in years. I’ve been busy trying out new recipes of cookies, cakes, cupcakes, muffins and other sweets that I’ve already forgotten about my old repertoire of sweets.

In the Philippines, I remember buying it in Baguio City at the Good Shepherds’ Convent. They come in plastic jars and are best sellers together with the strawberry and ube (a type of purple yam) jams.

Because Baguio City is a long drive up northern Philippines, getting this peanut brittle is almost next to impossible. Being adventurous in the kitchen, I decided to make it myself. I forgot already how or where I got the recipe but I never forgot how.

The recipe is simple and requires very basic ingredients such as the following:

1 cup peanuts, roasted and roughly chopped
1 cup granulated white sugar
1/4 cup water
pinch of baking powder

You will also need a rolling pin and baking paper, greased or buttered. I use the baking spray as that is easier.

Cooking instructions:
1. Make the caramel. Place the sugar and water in a thick bottomed pan. Turn the heat to high and bring the water and sugar to the boil without stirring. Then lower the heat to medium-high and continue boiling. After about 8 minutes, the mixture will start to brown. Continue boiling until the liquid is the color of amber.
2. When the caramel has turned amber, add the baking powder and then the peanuts. Stir until all the peanuts are evenly coated with the caramel.
3. Pour into the greased baking paper and using the rolling pin, roll until evenly spread to about 1/4 cm. thickness. While still hot, cut into squares using a sharp knife.

I chose the hard way roasting the peanuts myself


Coarsely grinding the peanuts (you can also use roasted or fried peanuts and chop it roughly)


Roughly grounded peanuts


Boiling the sugar and water


After a while the sugar/water mixture starts to change color


When the caramel has turned into amber, add the pinch of baking powder


Add the chopped/grounded peanuts to the caramel and stir until evenly mixed


Peanut/caramel mix poured into greased baking paper and flattened using the rolling pin


Crunchy peanut brittle

Dutch pea soup (always a favorite on chilly winter days)

Pea soup or "erwtensoep"

It’s been some years ago when I made this Dutch soup which I learned from my mom-in-law.  With the grey and dreary weather and since I have a bit of time, having this for dinner tonight is just a great idea.

Pea soup or “erwtensoep” (pronounced as ‘er-te-sup’ in case the spelling seems daunting to the untrained eye) is a national favorite.  Ask any Dutchman if he/she likes “erwtensoep” and chances are, you’ll get a thumbs-up sign.

It is not difficult to understand why this is the best -loved soup in this country.  The ingredients are simple and the taste is wonderful.  Cooking is just about putting all ingredients in a pot and having the luxury of time to wait while it slowly boils for roughly 1.5 to 2 hours.

Ingredients to the pea soup

Hmmm…I can hardly wait for dinner time.  Hubby is also so excited.  One thing is sure, he’ll be fishing out those slices of Hema sausages to all go to his plate.

Pork meat with bones and Hema sausage

Ingredients:

400 grams split peas

400 grams pork meat with bones

1 medium sized carrot, chopped roughly

1 leek, sliced to about .5cm

1/4 celery root

1 big potato (optional)

1 onion

2 bay leaves

a handful of celery leaves, chopped

salt and pepper to taste

2 liters water

1 Hema sausage, sliced to about 1 cm. thickness

Served with rye bread (roggebrood) and bacon (katenspek).  Katenspek is a cooked and smoked bacon which is later hanged to dry.

Cooking instruction:

1.  Put all the ingredients in a large soup pan except the Hema sausage.

2.  Bring to a boil at high heat.  Put heat to low and let it simmer for 1.5 to 2 hours or until the meat falls off the bone and the pea and other ingredients are already mushy.

3.  Around 5 minutes before the cooking ends, add the slices of the Hema sausage.

3.  Check the taste, add salt and pepper if necessary.

4.  Best served with rye bread and bacon.

Rye bread with bacon (katenspek)

How to make the perfect guacamole

Hubby saw the ripe avocados when we were doing the groceries this morning at Albert Heijn, the Dutch supermarket chain where we normally go.  He loves guacamole and especially the one I mastered after a few experiments that more or less approximate to the one we tasted in New Mexico when we were there on a camping holiday many years back.

Guacamole served with tortilla chips

Ingredients of guacamole

Here are the ingredients:

2 ripe avocados, roughly chopped

2 big tomatoes, roughly chopped

1/2 onion, finely chopped

Juice of 1 lime

A handful of coriander, finely chopped

2 dried chilies, finely chopped  (can be substituted with fresh chilies)

Salt and pepper

Other people would put the avocados in a food processor but I would advice against that. It is best to just make slices with a sharp knife to chopped the avocado in finer pieces but never make a puree out of it.

Coriander is also another ingredient which really makes a big difference in this guacamole.  It is simply refreshing to the taste buds.

Mix all the ingredients together and serve with tortilla chips.  If you have grated cheese, you can also add that as well.

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