Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year! – and a Few Notes on Making a Chinois Banquet

Last day of 2008. First, you wake up on a blue- gray morning.

The lamp posts are still lit.

Then after a quick shower and coffee, you take the train, and walk down the deserted streets. Don’t wonder- it happens all the time. You welcome the fact that cooks like you have to go to wwwoooorrk. Period. That’s the spray of asters I was holding.

Kitchen yesterday, kitchen today, kitchen tomorrow….

Long story of mise en places… we focus on the pointers of how to prepare a Chinese banquet.
First, the ‘lucky colors’ must be there. The reds, the greens, the yellows… The reds most specially.

Second, the ‘lucky shapes’ must be there, too. The circles, the globes… the Chinese are fond of the term ‘infinity’- whether it is health or love or prosperity.

There you go, Red Crabs in Garlic Butter with Leeks; Steamed Rice, which, when I was at the height of non- resistance, I played around with the parsley.

Third, ‘heads and tails’ must all be included. Thou shalt not serve a headless fish, nor shrimp. Featuring Tiger Prawns in Tomato Coulis & Concasse and Cilantro; and Steamed Grouper with Soy- Sesame Sauce

Fourth, make it very appealing and colorful to the eyes. The Chinese are very visual people and food is no exception. For the Roasted Beef with Red Wine Reduction, pipe along the Garlic Mashed Potatoes (use star tip for the nozzle- they will notice) on top of the buttered vegetables.

The Chinese are also sincere people. The way they ravage the banquet you made is an expression of their gratitude.

(My humble camera wants to give you its sincerest apologies- it knows it could have done better).

Happy New Year!!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Love Grows in the Wilderness

Before something ends, it is customary that we look back a little and wrap up on things- events that occurred, places we went to - anything that transcended our lives.

My love story commenced this year.

It went like this. I was innocently playing in the field like a sheep in spring when this… this tall, hairy brute that looks like… (scroll below), bottle in hand, appeared among the trees then walked towards me in long strides and said, “I love you (hic) … and I want you (hic)… so badly.”

I was thinking, albeit a little hesitant to pay attention because he looked intimidating, Who the hell are you, deranged lunatic?

Admittedly, for all my being commander in chief at the kitchen, I am extremely aloof with men in real life: the first to be nervous, and the last to decide – when yes means no, and no means maybe. On the other hand, I am always expecting that the man should impress the woman -a woman is nature’s most impressive creature anyway, she doesn’t have to try too hard.

Anyway, I saw this - let’s call him for now, Attila the Hun* - and what made me a little half afraid was the possibility that in the middle of the night, he’s most likely to shout, “Spartaaaaaa!!!”- at the height of passion than whisper sweet nothings in your ear.

Would you trust this man?

Talk about being wooed. This barbarian has a hypnotic charm that just got me.

The persistent wooing of Mr. Hun took some weeks until my heart softened like butter for pastry… and I started asking a few questions to him. In my heart, an unmasked affection blooms.

It is said that sheep people are secretive. Soon, myself and Mr. Hun had to escape the mad crowd of our working lives and sought some privacy in the field. Mr. Hun turned out to be a perfect gentleman despite my lunatic first impression.

Fortunately those trysts (where we rolled in the grass like animals gone wild) have never been in vain as I learned many things of my trade, reinvented my soul, and spoke amorosities in four languages (an ability I never knew I ever possessed). We read Neruda sonnets and food odes, ate ice cream, and talked what little we know about philosophy, existentialism, and Bushido and paintings and monks, watched the seasons…kissed like there was no tomorrow… until the stars disappeared in the horizon. We both agree too, that the Cirque du Soleil can give you that high without having to take off your clothes.

But one great lesson I learned is, for the survival and propagation of the species, bed skills are more important than kitchen skills. Oh yes!

FH: At a scale of 10, how would you rate yourself?
AtH: At what?
FH: In… bed?
AtH: (laughs) Hmmm…I know you’d ask me that...
AtH: 12.7?

No comment.

To cut the story short, oh, yes, despite the tugging and pulling, and loving and the resistance, the Huntress did have a strong emotion towards the Hun. He had about a dozen knives and is very skilled with all of them; can hunt, fish, and wrestle than me much better… and has a strong temper he could bomb cars (has no effect on me, though). And the truth is, I like men better when they have fire in their eyes. They are the ones who blaze the trails of life. Which he definitely has.

But what Mr. Hun has told me- and I too believed- love is not about the postcard perfect-picture of lovers nor the ring on our finger. While all of that is necessary us being physical and social creatures, them too will fade away for in the end , we are ethereal and spiritual creatures (his favorite terms). At the end of the tunnel, everything is posted with newspapers. Love, then, is all about formlessness. It has no structure- no cookie cutter expectations about how one should be. It doesn't matter if both of you are seriously flawed- love is continuous and seems to be always existing. You use it – to change your life, straighten your path in the woods, or rearrange your destiny- and love will never wear out.

Love manifests in the NOW – who you are, who you were, and who you will become.

Of course, my love story with the Hun, inexhaustible and perfect as it is…continues. The universe only adds to that which we already have.


“…In you, the tongue receives a kiss, from ocean night:
Taste imparts to every seasoned dish your essence;
in you, I taste infinitude. “

-Pablo Neruda, Ode to Salt

*Name has been changed to protect privacy. We have to borrow photos…because it is a crime to publish his.

Love – and the Crème Brulee Analogy

Good thing blogging was ever invented. Whenever I write here and I write for myself – it is like casting thoughts out there in the universe – and know that the Source does respond in return. That is a good thing, isn't it?

I have a few thoughts on love.

For all that reputation in my brigade that Foodhuntress is an enigmatic, career- obsessed, man- hating Ice Queen (or once- and this really got me in a funny way- a client had said- “She looks like she’ll karate you”- hahaha), perceptions are welcome, but truth be told, yours truly is very much a crème-brulee romantic.
Can you extract poetry every time you eat crème brulee? Like, you tap the hardened sugar surface and there you taste the crème all infused with vanilla or kaffir lime leaves or lemon grass… and it softly melts in your mouth.

On the other hand, I observe too, that I had never mentioned in any one of my posts that I had a…lover...nor cooked for, nor mentioned ‘that sweetie’, 'that mon amour', etc.. For all this love discussion, maybe it is indeed time that I write about him.

Anyway, before 2008 comes to a close, I will be the first to admit that in this amazing year did I realize I had a…a… soulmate. (Or such).

Until next.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Dinner and the Parfait Parade

Many things have been said about chefs working on holidays – but I what I have honestly expected since graduating from being a line cook is that I could finally lean back on Christmas Eve and enjoy the show. But heck, all of that have been made false as four of my chefs were sent on our community outreach activity (aired last night on local channel, GMA 7) to cook cauldrons of food for three hundred poor people - a kitchen affair which I was supposed to participate myself.

Our marketing department has been nagging me for months - “Chef, please, you have to be there- with that toque and all!” It would have been my third appearance on national TV this year. Besides too much TV exposure (I still have my ETTV, remember?) would probably diminish my value :)

I just had to be true to my calling as a cook and therefore I had to stay in the kitchen.

So, which kitchen did I go to? Had I indeed become a Cinderella as my four step- brothers enjoyed their moment of celebrity while I sadly stirred soup in some kitchen?

Apparently, my schedules have been overhauled on the last few days as His Excellency The Tribe Chief requested that I stay in his party and see to it that the kids and the rest of the High Emperors are extremely satisfied.


But... but...I am not a Private Chef!

No questions, no questions. I am merely a small individual who has to obey the law… and so…

December 24 the whole day, while the four chefs were doing the mise en place for the Soup Kitchen, I was part checking on their work while wrapping harumaki, chopping asparagus and mandolined veggies (the mighty mandoline is my best friend now), made sauces- anything that would complete the dinner of the gods, instructing here and there the line cooks how to do the Japanese veggies, ball the melons, and that you don’t cut broccoli flowers straight with a knife for godssake…etcetera, etcetera…

Fast forward, and both the dinner and the Soup Kitchen were a big roaring success (take a bow, chefs!).

Meanwhile, at the Tribe Chief’s dinner, my main reason for being there is that by request, I had to make on-the-spot parfaits. How fun is that? A small table has been placed where I’d put the toppings, a chiller for the ice cream… and after meal, like a swarm of bees, these more-than-million-dollar kids started lining up asking for that “Ice cream thingie that the chef is doing” (hahaha)

The thrill was in the creating actually. Very challenging too. And- make it fast! Before I made one parfait, I had to look who’s asking… a sweet long- haired girl = vanilla + fruit cubes + chopped nuts + whipped cream + mint + maraschino cherry… a smart bespectacled twelve year old= chocolate + sliced bananas+ corn flakes + whipped cream + pretzel stick…so that no two parfaits look the same. One after the other until we ran out of dessert glasses we had to use those meant for martinis…

No matter what, this should be counted as one of my best Christmas Eves ever. Christmas can’t be choosy- whether you’re cooking for the underprivileged or the over-privileged… the question is –

-What did you give?

Merry Christmas to the World!

(I need a massage too! Whew!)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Of the Wilderness… and Even Wilder Dreams

Someday, when Santa gave that castle I asked him of (it will fall from the sky like “The Flying House”), I would live this wonderful life every day of my existence.

Behind the dream castle, trees grow tall in the backyard giving me lots of fresh air.

I’d take a walk in the tall grasses… and inhale that sweet scent of the morning dew.I stop by and notice one small wild flower.

And roll down in the grass to admire the sky.

Then, as though I catch the blue-ness of the sky I just saw, I make my sister a wreath of forget-me-nots…

But we have to get up. Because lunch is waiting…

Because we have with us slices of baguette and bagels and herbed cream cheese and eggplant tandoori topping, and artichoke dip and marmalade…

And embutido and empanaditas…

And pancit and pasta…

On my lap is a bowl of yoghurt and fresh fruits and muesli.
Someday, when I have the perfect residence and lots of money, I will be happy. I will have every means to enjoy life.


But that someday sounds like a thousand years. I don’t wait for that someday. It is best to live our best lives NOW.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Season of Bibingka and Puto Bumbong

Christmas season in the Philippines isn't complete without the tandem of these two. Hmm... last night I dreamed that I was handed an award by the Bocuse d' Or for best in cultural preservation. Christmas cooking stress and dreams gone wild- yeah right!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

That Spaghetti Breath

Step 1: Boil up.
Step 2: Cut up.
Step 3: Mix up.
Step 4: Add up.

Spaghetti. In a breath.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Why you must not get too excited for the party...

Warning: You can choose not to proceed.

As I was saying... this is not really a food blog but all about what is going on in my so- called cooking life.

I have never been wounded by knives ever since I started cooking by heart. Butcher’s knife, boning knives, Japanese knives, twelve- inch knives- Food Huntress always comes out clean. I confess to having a number of second degree burns (especially when I was working on a French pastry shop), but never getting knifed. But on that very same day while me and the chefs were preparing for our company Christmas party, all of that cutting history was defied.
And no, by the way, knives are not the culprit this time. I was preparing the salad that morning while going clack-clack-clack- clacking with the chefs, laughing while preparing eight entrees… and suddenly… Blood Type B was trickling down the cucumbers. My saliva started to collect on the insides of my mouth. The world was still as my hands started producing these little globules of perspiration.

No time for the classic cursing this time. That would be too ordinary. I just swallowed hard and grabbed the towel tied on my apron and pressed hard as I recalled my sins and those that I loved… was it my dying day?

One of the chefs dressed the wound while joking if they’d call the ambulance. “You are shaking”, I heard him say. “No, I’m not shaking.” Of course.

Anyway. I put on some kitchen gloves and did the trussing of five kilos of chicken for roasting and five kilos of beef for roulade while the others worked on Creole Jambalaya (while singing Jambalaya), stuffed fish, rotini alla carbonara, Chinese pork stew, fruit fondue… The laughing with the team continued and the show went on.
But foremost in my mind was that one thing that really screwed me up: not the knives, but- you’ve guessed it -
- the mandoline.

By the way, we got great comments from the diners. Yeah, right! Blood and sea salt have the same chemical composition, right?

Friday, December 5, 2008

Food Huntress's Letter to Santa

Dear Santa,

Hello. I know that you love drinking Coca Cola, and that there are many, many kids who write you every year. I am one of those few grown up kids who never stopped believing that you are real. By the way, you have been giving me for the past years the things I never asked for. Thank you for those many bonuses. For now, ah... here’s my report card and... Santa dearest, I have been good this year!

Ten Great Things That Happened in 2008:

10. Winning a blog contest and getting vanilla beans and cookbooks. Santa, click on this amazing link. This generous Zen Chef sponsored a writing contest about vanilla and I won it. I am not sure how many joined but the point is I won it. The vanilla beans went into many dishes but I spared one tube for Christmas dinner. Because I am expecting you for Christmas dinner!

9. Getting a great job. Yes!

8. Bumping into my former boss (to whom I really have been a bad employee) and hearing him say “I’m so proud of you.” You see, Santa, I haven’t been that bad after all!

7. Moving into my new apartment. The gods have been too heart could burst apart.

6. Seeing my sister get married. Thank you for the wonderful brother-in-law. Didn’t you remember last Christmas my sister wished for a lover and there You gave it?

5. Having my post graduate degree. Santa, do you need to see my grades too? Will send it via email attachment, ok? ;)

(P.S. I really find graduation togas a little… absurd. I feel funny wearing one)

4. Rolling around in the field… you know those trysts. That has kept my sanity intact for a long time.

3. Seeing my family travel. One approved visa after another. Thank you!

2. Living through a tough year with flying colors. I survived ’08 alive! (We’ll round off December 2008 into 2009 already)

1. I’ll reserve ONE gratitude. Let me think about it. Hmmm… this last one I feel a little too embarrassed to write here. So, I’ll write it on a piece of paper and send it to you via chimney ashes ala Mary Poppins. This will be our secret…

Thank you, thank you.

Now- for the things I want:

10. A really good Japanese knife.

9. More opportunities for travel (it connotes as well, more $$$$ in my purse)
8. The wardrobe of Marie- Antoinette (modern version)
7. More luck for the new restaurant, great reviews and of course many customers.
6. I want to be very healthy in the Year of the Ox.
5. More blessings for the family (i.e., safety, good health, love, the works, Santa!)
4. I wish that my Boss will lessen this habit of calling me when it’s my day off. Can you tell him? I’ll give you his number via chimney… (ah, via ashes- I don’t have chimney, by the way). Or rather, can you give him a "How-to-Take-It-Easy" Book? He tends to worry too much.

(I really see myself living in a castle someday...)

3. A castle. Yes, Santa, you know how much I wanted to live in a castle, don’t you?
2. The discipline to study four foreign languages (Spanish, French, Japanese and German- yes I am that highfalutin’ ambitious) this year and by 2010 I should speak with more fluency.
1. This ONE too. I’ll reserve. Ssshhh…

One more thing, Santa, everybody probably has a wishlist and includes there "peace on earth" and "No more hunger" and "No more war"....and probably my lousy checklist is all for me, me, me! Yessir! But if I'll be good for another one more year, and cook nice dinners for another one whole year and write more blogs for another one whole year, then dear Santa, should there still be a need for me to wish more "Peace On Earth?"

Thank you for reading my blog. Be careful. I worry about you sometimes you know...hehehe. It's very hot here in my country you might want to take off that red coat... ;)




Santa Photo borrowed here

Knife photo, thanks to this link