Wednesday, February 27, 2008
We passed countless food stands and vendors EVERYWHERE. Along roadsides, throughout villages, every place we visited and passed seemed to be selling food.
Funnily enough, there were also lots of burger stands. Being a fan of old-fashioned drive-ins, I found myself enamored with one burger stand in particular - Burger Machine. It was so charming with it's stainless steel counter, bar stools and a weird little santa-like mascot.
When I finally had the opportunity to try out the burger at the Burger Machine, I wasn't as enamored. It was more of a pork patty than a beef patty. Like breakfast sausage if you will. They served it with cheese, loads of "special" sauce and ketchup. I guess it was banana ketchup, but was not as good as the banana ketchup I'd had earlier in the trip. It was so sweet it was almost like jam. It wasn't great, but the experience was worth it.
There were lots of stands selling fresh fruit and fresh steamed corn on the cob. We also saw lots selling buko - young coconut.
I asked Marie what her favorite street food is and she said fish balls. Evidently these are really popular with school kids, so you can always find the stands near schools.
Well, sure enough we found a fish ball stand. This was actually located near Florin's school in Manila. We made it past there on a shopping excursion to buy some pirated DVDs.
The fish balls were indeed very tasty. They are basically white fish mixed with flour and then deep fried. You get a little skewer full of them and then your shoice of dipping sauces. All this for about 50 cents.
Monday, February 25, 2008
I had a lot of assumptions about Asian people before my brother married Filipina. I'll admit now that I assumed all Asians ate with chopsticks. OK it's not like I actually put that much thought into it, but in the back of my mind that is what I assumed.
When Marie's family first visited us in the U.S., I was surprised to see that they eat with cutlery - but only with a fork and spoon, and mostly with the spoon.
They actually use the fork for pushing the food into the spoon or for pinning down the food while it is cut (or torn) with the tip of the spoon. This works surpringly well. Every meal is served with rice. The meat and veggies served are usually already cut into bite sized pieces before being cooked. Traditionally - Filipinos eat with their hands, but most modern people here eat with cutlery.
Sunday, February 24, 2008
First - we drove up to the "Chocolate Hills." There are 1200 of these cone-shaped hills spread over one section of the island. They got their name because they turn brown in the summer. It is still spring here (summer is March-May), so the hills were green.
Next, we stopped at a suspension bridge that crossed over the Luboc river. The crossing was a little slippery, but we were rewarded with a little souvenir shop that sold young coconuts with a straw for 50 cents, grilled bananas and a crackpot local that tore the husk off a mature coconut with his TEETH!
Later, we went on a cruise down the Luboc river. The riverboats serve lunch and have some ridiculous semi-live music, but it was good food and great scenery. We stopped at a couple of points where groups of school kids played ukulele versions of Abba songs. There were also some kids along the way that would jump into the water off the banks and swim to the boats. They'd grab hold - and look woefully into passengers' eyes in hopes of a few coins - and then jump off and swim over to one of the other tourist boats cruising down the river.
After the cruise, we drove back across the island. We passed lots of rice fields and they were harvesting the rice at many of them. Along the sides of the road, the rice was laid out to dry on tarps. This rice was then sold to cooperatives on the island for milling (in fact, we saw 50 kilo bags of it being loaded at the port the next day).
We also made a stop to see the Tarsiers - little bug-eyed, nocturnal critters. They kind of reminded me of Gremlins. They moved slow and were pretty cute, but you probably don't want to feed them after midnight. Not so long ago, you could visit game farm places on Bohol and hold the Tarsiers. They are endangered now though, so you can only look at them.
I've been trying to eat local as much as possible, but somehow fish for breakfast just doesn't agree with me. Sure it's tasty, but for even for Scandinavian girl it just doesn't taste all that good first thing in the morning.
Some of the breakfast buffets have had various sauteed or deep fried fish. One even had tartar sauce! Marie's favorite are the small dried fish (above) that are deep fried until super crispy. These are essentially finger food. You dip them in a vinegar and shallot sauce and then crunch away. Somehow I think these would go better with a martini, but that's just me...
We spent a total of 3 nights on this island, which is famous for its endangered population of tarsiers - cute nocturnal prosimian primates. OK, I had to look up that last part. I thought they were marsupials.We had a couple of relaxing days, but also spent a full day sightseeing around the island. I took full advantage of the R & R time thought - enjoying fresh mango smoothies with rum.
Saturday, February 23, 2008
Bananas grow everywhere here. I remember seeing my first banana tree in Hawaii and just about flipping out. It is the coolest looking tree and the bananas grow in massive clusters.
Bananas are used here for just about everything – banana leaves are used to cook food in; they make banana ketchup and several banana desserts. I imagine they distill it into alcohol, but I have yet to find it.
My favorite dessert here so far is the banana fritter, or turon. Marie makes these at home and I think I’d known her a couple of years before I ever tried them. I accused her of keeping these a secret from me. I am totally addicted to them now. As far as I understand, these are filled with banana, brown sugar and jack fruit (a huge tropical fruit that is shaped like a pear but is all prickly and about 4 pounds). You wrap these in a lumpia (or wonton) wrapper and deep fry them. I’ve had them served with ice cream and also a coconut sauce here, but I think they are just fine plain and warm.
Manila is a sprawling urban jungle. It isn’t exactly a place for a walking tour. Ching arranged for a mini-van tour that could whisk around the city and then out to the suburbs to visit a cousin’s fish farm.
We started off the morning at the “wet market.” This indoor market is one of the largest in Manila. You can buy rice and dry goods, but also fresh meat, sausages, vegetables and fresh fish. By fresh fish, I mean live fish. I wandered around - careful not to slip on the wet floor - while I filmed the vendors and sounds. It was a great market. It didn’t really smell much. Not rotten at least. The fish and meat vedors had chopping blocks where they were cleaning and filleting fish and butchering the meat. Those blocks didn’t look too sanitary. Other than that, the market was pretty clean. The floor was slick and wet though – hence the name, “wet market.”
In the afternoon, we traveled a bit outside of metro Manila to visit a cousin’s fish farm. We rowed out in canoes, through the pens, out to the caretakers hut. You need someone to look over the pens at all times so people don’t come in and steal your fish. This is also where the fish feed is stored. This farm raises milk fish – the national fish of the Philippines. They mostly feed on stuff (seaweed, plankton?) in the water, but they are also fed Cheetos. OK, not exactly Cheetos, but the mills that make the Filipino snack chips, cheese puffs and other salty snacks, donate the seconds and expired stock to the fish farms. Nothing wasted, right?
We had a couple of fishing poles along and managed to catch a couple of small fish before rowing back to land.
Friday, February 22, 2008
We had a big meal together with Marie's family on both nights. The first night was out at a Chinese restaurant. The second night was at her uncle Joe's place in the suburbs. It is always fun to visit someones home - and eat there - in a foreign country.
One of the most remarkable differnces for me was that they don't have ovens in their home kitchens here. Only cook tops and grills. It is too hot for an oven, so they buy baked goods and cook everything else on a cook top.
Filipinos are crazy for sweets - their iced tea is super sweet, they also drink a bubble tea type drink with flavored gelatin and tapioca. There are bakeries everywhere selling all manor of soft buns and sweet treats.
Driving around Manila was very eye-opening. Even in the main districts there are shanty homes, fetid streams and garbage everywhere. The government is so corrupt here that money for infrastructure and public works is quickly squandered. The average salary is 260 pesos per day - about $7. Food is cheap, but decent housing and fuel and electricity are expensive.
By and large though, people are friendly and seem happy. It really shakes up a westerner's view of "quality of life." In homes that I would consider a dump - there are potted flowers. Everyone smiles and children play and laugh. So, what is happiness? Stuff or family? Families are large here. I think the average is 4 children. They take care of their elders and more prosperous relatives hire less fortunate nieces and nephews as household help in exchange for room & board and a good education.
So, back to the food. They eat and eat and eat. Rice with every meal and lots of fried food. How they stay slim is beyond me. They also snack a lot. Merienda is the term for a mid day snack. The streets are lined with stalls selling grilled meat and bananas on skewers. There are also countless sari-sari stores, which are basically convenience stores selling snacks as well as household products.
Well, there is much more to say but I have to continue this report later. I still need to write about the wet market, our fishing trip, the traffic and the transvestites.
Sunday, February 17, 2008
It is a great issue and made me realize that for each new cooking magazine I receive, I should make a checklist of things to do or try. So, here it is:
- Try out foodie texting. For wine matches, text the name of the dish or the main ingredient to Ewine Match at 411511. Receive 3 suggestions in return.
- Eat more vegetables: Try out the recipe for Potato, greens and goat cheese quesadillas on page 58 and Pasta with peas, cream, parsley and mint on page 60. Mark Kurlansky's article on page 76 gives some insight into why I don't like vegetables.
- Cabbage - it stimulates digestion and the immune system, clears up your complexion and has loads of vitamin C. Try out the recipe for Cabbage & white bean soup with sausages on page 69.
- Cinnamon Rolls. Molly Wizenberg's new column is gonna finally make me subscribe to BA. Her recipe for C-rolls looks great. The article is good for anyone who fears yeast.
- Drink more Guiness. 125 calories for 12 ounces. Fuck light beer.
- A pint would probably go well with Potato soup with kale and chorizo from page 89.
- Next month's soup night is an "American" menu, and the Black bean chili with crispy pork and poblano salsa just might end up on the menu.
Thursday, February 14, 2008
Burgundy had it's own room - but it was chilly and dark and I only visited occasionally. Burgundy got lots of friends in it's basement room, but these friends quickly came and went. Lately, I've been afraid that our relationship would be ruined forever. I'd heard murmurings that perhaps Burgundy would leave me or worse, perhaps Burgundy had already gone south. 1990 was a long time ago afterall. You can't hang onto your youth forever.
Tonight was your night to shine Burgundy. And shine you did. From your sweet, dried cranberry introduction to your smooth finish, you wooed us. With your pale yet opaque color, you confounded us. I know you prefer to be called by your proper name - Savigny les Beaune - but your neighborhood is a pretty tony one, so don't be so picky. Burgundy = Bourgogne = Heaven.
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
I think we got spoiled on a trip to Naples a few years back. According to legend - or at least our guidebook - Naples is the birthplace of pizza. Wandering the back alleys of the Spanish Quarter, we happened upon a small pizzeria. The menu was simple - pizza with Coke or pizza with beer. For €2.50, we feasted on the best pizza we had ever tasted. It was simplicty itself - thin, salty crust topped with a thin sheen of fresh tomato sauce, a smattering of creamy mozzarella cheese and a single basil leaf. The pizza margherita - as it is known - is now the pizza we try to receate every time we make pizza.
It starts with a good crust:
Makes 6 individual pizzas
1 pkg active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons olive oil (plus extra for greasing the bowl)
500 gr (or 4 cups) all purpose flour (plus extra for kneading)
1/2 cup warm water (about 100-115 degrees)
1 cup cold water
In a small bowl or measuring cup, stir yeast, warm water and sugar together and let sit for 10 minutes, until the yeast has activated and the top is foamy.
In a food processor, place flour & salt. Pulse 2 or 3 times. Turn food processor on and slowly pour in olive oil, then yeast/water/sugar mixture, then cold water. Process for 60-90 seconds. You may need to pulse a few times if the dough gets stuck.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 1-2 minutes or until the dough is smooth. Form into a tight ball.
In a medium bowl, splash in some olive oil and rub the dough all around to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. The dough will nearly double in size.
Once risen, divide the dough into 6 equallly sized pieces and form into tight balls. Place on a baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise for 30 minutes - enough time for you to preheat the oven, prep the toppings and make the sauce.
2 cans Muir Glen organic diced tomatoes (not stewed)
1/4 cup minced onion
1 Tablespoon minced basil
salt & pepper to taste
1 Tablespoon olive oil
Drain the tomatoes (discard the juice) Blend the tomatoes, onion, oil, salt & pepper with a stick blender or in a food processor so the sauce is fairly smooth. A few lumps are OK. Stir in the basil. Season to taste.
Forming the Crust
We are by no means experts, but here are some tips. Carefully remove one ball of dough (cover the rest again with plastic wrap, otherwise a crust will form) and take to a lightly floured surface (we like a bakers peel). Gently lift the dough and let the weight of it slowly droop down, while you rotate it to form a flattish disc. Place on the peel and gently stretch it out, while you rotate it to form an even flatter disc. Then, dimple it with your finger tips - stretching more if needed - until it is about 1/4 inch thick. You can make a makeshift peel by using a cookie sheet turned upside down. Make sure you use plenty of flour though, it easily transfers to the oven.
Don't overload the crust with toppings. The dough is too thin to handle much weight. We generally keep toppings pretty simple - a splash of olive oil, some salt, maybe some red chile flakes. Then, top with some sauce, maybe some thinly sliced onion, torn pieces of the mozzarella, and some minced fresh basil. Add a little freshly grated parmigiano too.
For a crowd - it is fun to set out a little buffet of toppings to choose from: artichoke hearts, chopped olives, ham or pepperoni, baby spinach, sauteed mushrooms or zucchini, roasted garlic, etc. Baking the Pizza
We've worked hard to try and create the hottest possible temps in our home oven, in a vain attempt to recreate the wood-fired pizza taste. It is not close by a long shot, but does improve the taste & texture quite a bit.
Place a baking stone on a rack in the center of the oven. Heat to 550 degrees for at least 30 minutes. While you are assembling your pizza, set the broiler to medium high (for about 5 minutes). Once your pizza is ready, turn the oven back to 550. [Gavin likes to keep the broiler on for the entire cooking time, but I think it overcooks the top]. Bake for 7-10 minutes until crispy on the botttom and bubbling on the top.
Wednesday, February 6, 2008
Soupnight tends to go late into the evening (well, late for us since we normally go to bed around 10pm). When you've eaten dinner at 6 or 7 pm and then continue to drink until well past 11 or 12, you need to fill your belly again. If your house if full of drunk people - well, you gotta fill their bellies as well.
Behold the booze sponge. A booze sponge - by my definition - is any starchy, salty fattening snack that drunk people will scarf down at the end of the night that might, just might, help them to sober up a bit. Other examples of booze sponge are: Dick's Deluxe cheeseburgers, quesadillas, hot dogs, pizza. You get the idea.
We started a booze sponge tradition as soupnight this year. Around 11pm, the stove comes to life again and grilled cheese after grilled cheese is cranked out.
Booze Sponge (AKA Grilled Cheese)
Makes three sandwiches, serves 2-4
6 slices crusty artisan bread, sliced thick
6 oz grated Gruyere
6 oz grated Beecher’s Flagship
3 Tbsp butter
Edmund Fallot Dijon mustard
Mix together the grated cheeses. Load up approx. 4 oz grated cheese between two slices of bread. Generously butter the outside of each slice. Repeat 3 times. Place into a non-stick skillet on medium-low heat. Cook 3-5 minutes on each side (or until golden brown). Let rest for 1 minute before slicing in half. Serve warm with Edmund Fallot Dijon mustard.
Now, drink a big glass of water and go to bed!
Sunday, February 3, 2008
Italian food is probably the one we are most experienced and comfortable with. We did a mostly Italian theme for one soupnight last year and it was quite a success.
Cooking for a crowd though, has some drawbacks. Particularly if you don't want to be in the kitchen the entire evening. My first instinct was to make lasagna. Gavin took some convincing, but once he realized he'd be able to harness is inner saucier and whip up some bechamel and ragù, he was on board.
The best lasagna we've ever made was made with homemade noodles. Yes, they are a bit more involved, but they are definitely worth it. There are loads of recipes out there. The best tips we've learned over time though are a) rest your dough, b) heavily flour your pasta maker and c) use flour sack towels for storing the rolled and/or cooked dough.
Gavin started the ragù on Friday night. We decided to make a double batch, since we were expecting quite a crowd. It included 12 oz of pancetta, 1 pound of chuck roast, 1 pound of pork shoulder, lots of carrots, celery and onion, some garlic, tomato and spices and plenty of patience and time.
When all was said and done - and assembled - we had ourselves quite a hefty lasagna on our hands. This beauty weighed in at 17 pounds!
We made a Vegetarian Lasagna as well (minus the 2+ lbs of flesh) that included a nice tomato sauce and the same bechamel as the Lasagna al ragù, but substituted a nice ricotta/egg/spinach mixture for the meat.
To this menu, we wanted to add a light, fresh and crunchy salad. We had enough cheese, cream and flavor already involved in the lasagna and dessert. At a New Year's Eve party this year, I spotted this "deconstructed" Caesar salad that someone had brought:
I loved this idea of little Caesar "tacos." They turned out great - all I did was wash some hearts of romaine and separated out the leaves. Then, I squirted a little dressing on the leaves and topped with a crostini that had been toasted with some parmigiano on top.
And finally, dessert. I have never been particularly enamored with Italian desserts. Other than gelato and tiramisù, there isn't much in the dolce department that has ever truly excited me. Unless, it is Panna Cotta. This was a pretty straight forward dessert to make: warm some milk, sugar & gelatin, add to a big bowl of cold cream and vanilla bean, pour into ramekins and chill for 4+ hours. It is basically cream Jello. The flecks of vanilla bean are a nice touch, as is a little decorative application of berry coulis.