Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Foodhuntress, Guest Speaker

In less than 48 hours I will be back to our good old province to speak before over a thousand people on a graduation ceremony rites from my old elementary school. Oh boy. For the past days, former teachers have been asking me of my whereabouts. I said, gosh, I wasn't even the class valedictorian nor salutatorian nor model student. To be an inspirational speaker is a privilege reserved for highly accomplished people like mayors and prime ministers. Me? I am just a small potato. I was almost about to say that they better trace the real honor students via Facebook.
True, I had been elected class president for a number of years (because of my dictator tendencies), then later was tagged "Extortionist of the Year" because I used to pass around a hat to solicit funds for Christmas Party, but I swear I didn't graduate with honors. Yup, I had almost flunked Math with a 75% pathetic grade on both elementary and high school so I wonder how I could make it to the honors. Another trick of the gods, eh?

Anyway, to prepare, I had been to a spa/ sauna/ jacuzzi last night and got a massage (these are the real treats of life), and today I am composing my speech while looking at these trees bursting with flowers. I look at the sunlight streaming through the branches and realize how beautiful they really are. I will write my speech revolving around all these - rays of sunshine in the wilderness.

All modesty aside, these days when those people ask me what made me successful (ok, if they see it that way then I won't argue), I blush brightly first then blurt out, "Relax and let go." (At the back of my mind I was thinking, "...and don't be afraid to make a fool out of yourself.")

Monday, March 30, 2009

Fun Run- and the Discovery of a New Cusine

Went ot this Fun Run for Children last Saturday. This is for the benefit of a foundation established by a French Jesuit for children supporting better education and a chance to a better life. The good cause aside, I like events like this for the energy, the enthusiasm, the happiness- and most of all for the food - all packed together to become a great celebration.

Run for a child!

So a good reason to be there was the food. I have been going around town lately, exploring cuisines, and it was a nice experience bumping into innovative establishments.

But in this Fun Run, among the participating restaurants, CONGO GRILLE seems to be the winner big time. I have been acquainted to some staff of Congo Grille for some time now. I have even done a lot of silly things to Carla, the Marketing Manager (who reads my blog :) Hi Carla!) so I said it is about time that I feature her restaurant in my blog. More writings about this fantastic resto some other posts. Besides, the owners of the restaurant have been very kind to me. Thank you, thank you. :) If I don't get paid writing for them then at least I could enjoy many privileges :)

Filipino breakfast treats.

Look at that. These 'pulis' men (policemen) couldn't get enough of CONGO.

It shows.

Feast your eyes-
This Poquito Mas Restaurant also got my curiosity. It serves SPLATINO cuisine- something that is honestly new to me.

What is SPLATINO? This is the spawn of Spanish + Latino + Filipino cuisines. If one would look closely at Philippine cuisine, it has a lot of influence from Spain (having been colonized for 300 years), a hint of Mexican, and Philippine's Asian- ness. Now this calls to mind something that circulated once in the internet- that the Philippines is not "too Asian". The religion is Catholic, the last names are Spanish, the main foreign language is English- what else? Well that makes Philippines, Philippines.

And I love snapshots of children too.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Oh, The Mermaid That Wanted To Be...

Life is getting prettier by the moment, isn’t it? This is a perfect day to give my kitchen clogs a shower because I am going out for a swim myself. Gosh, isn’t it hot in the city!

If the blogsphere censors women in bikini (or does it?), not quite true with our community swimming pool. I think you can even dip naked if you want to.

But as you can see, I am swimming with a bunch of boys on the onset of puberty - raging hormones and all- so I honestly have to think twice about revealing too much flesh. In a country where girls swim in drenched t- shirts, wearing a bikini bra concealed by a lacy tank top paired with board shorts already gets you the stares.
To be very honest, I haven’t worn two- piece bikini before in public, and what’s worse….I…. tantanaannn… I don’t know how to swim either. During our swimming lessons when I was eleven, I was more into the fantasy and dreaminess of mermaid romances than paying attention to our instructor. No wonder, I had almost always drowned all the time – about five times, five different summers, and some men had to drag me out from the waters. In kindergarten though, when a friend asked me what I wanted to be when I grown up, I said, I wanted to be a mermaid.

Will these hams turn into fish tail? I wonder.

Ergo it’s literally just dipping into the pool, airing my lungs, celebrating a lazy afternoon on my rest day, and burning a few calories. Am I falling in love with the water?

This is my favorite part. The clouds start to gather up in the sky and it starts to rain. Rain on the pool - the boys were shouting with joy.

I had to run back upstairs to our pad, dump my wet clothes into my sister’s washing machine (this is the day she bought her new toy- so while I was out for a swim, the beautiful air force captain is washing our clothes. Who says life is so hard? C' mon, recession is a state of mind!)

I was already combing my hair when the rain poured harder. This is one of my hands- down favorite moods. No worries, rainy afternoon, your muscles are a little achy, and you feel drowsy- that very same feeling when you sipped too much Cabernet. What would you do?

A. Read a book
B. Write a blog
C. Roll under the sheets with a lover
D. Watch a movie

The most delicious answer is the choice highlighted in red. Admit it, denying physical pleasures is hypocritical and un- human, but since that lover is yet on the way, I went for letter E.

E. Create summer coolers

Black Sesame and Tomorokoshi Cream Cooler .

I’ll proceed next time – too tired right now. Goodnight.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Chief's Message to Foodhuntress

Last week, I had my performance evaluation. Everything was summed up in this letter.


You must know that what you have gone through were the so- called "birth pains"- imminent in any process of creation or in our case, big projects. I saw that you have been through a lot of headaches and heartaches, but somehow you managed to pull it through. You must understand that what I do to you is likened to finding a jewel or sculpting a marble. First you have to take out a whole slab from the mine, bring it down, until you are at last doing the polishing and the finish. Sometimes that jewel comes into humans in the form of talents or potentials.
I have to tell you that young as you are, you have much to learn. The other chefs cook faster and can stand the heat better than you, but what sets you apart is the unmatched passion in your heart. That I have no doubt.
I am impressed by how you compose yourself in the toughest of situations; gracefully, with both your feet on the ground, and you can carry through. Pay attention to the smallest details, be organized, focused, and in time you will become a great chef.
There is nothing to be alarmed about.
The Tribe Chief
Photo credit: http://buyingdiamonds.org.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Of Geishas and Parfaits

Two weeks ago, the head panelist of the food tasting board asked me as she flipped through the nine- page menu, "Madam Chef, did you create all of these?"

- What should I say?

A. No, and tell a lie
B. Yes, and - sound too cocky

I smiled and bowed. No words.

For me, all acts of creation start somewhere. Whatever that somewhere is, there is always a source for inspiration- whether you pulled it out of your jeans pocket or an intimidating cookbook, the point is, it stemmed from somewhere.

Most of the time I don't copy from cookbooks. Of course I make them as reference for techniques, proportions, but first in my mind is to respect the mental genius of who created that dish. Credit goes to him/ her. Don't expect me either to copy the menu of my competitors.

When I was called to create a Japanese parfait dessert for example, what I had in mind was the ease of putting the dessert altogether- put this and that, and voila, a belle melange of everything! But...but...weirder as my mind goes, I was thinking of something else.

I was thinking of a geisha. If I had another lifetime to live, I would choose to be born in Osaka nd dream of becoming a geisha. With a geisha, other worlds of beauty are created. Not much that I know, but I could imagine that if you were a big time no- nonesense mogul, I think it makes better sense once in a while to join the companion of a living artwork than manipulate the realities of paying bills, dirty laundry, and parking spaces. Geishas don't sell their flesh, but their talents. With a geisha, you don't talk about divorce but poetry. After that, you get a better grab with life.

I am inspired by geishas myself. That picture above is my desktop wall paper downloaded from the National Geographic Archives. I took it as the inspiration for making Azuki Parfait.

The layers of azuki beans bring to mind that azuki, as main ingredient is a Japanese staple bean. While you can use canned azuki, it is still very challenging to bloom the beans yourself and make your own sweetened azuki. The geisha's kimono is red, so reminiscent of the red beans.

The kanten jelly, soft and versatile, discloses the a lot about the nature of a woman. You can use kanten jelly for savory and sweet foods alike, in the same way that a woman is resilient and in every way beautiful in all the courses of life.

Scoops of vanilla ice cream, classic and indespendable in the desserts of the world. Sweetness, gentleness, and everything that brings to mind unflawed beauty.

Cereal flakes and irigoma add texture and contrast;

Whipped cream, ah...whipped cream.

Then at last, I had to translate into the dish the 'umbrella' of the beautiful geisha: the pocky sticks. This is a popular Japanese chocolate- coated biscuit sticks, a personal favorite too, and I can't miss this out in the dessert.

Down the rain she walks
A geisha graces the road
To the coffee shop.


Monday, March 16, 2009

To Really Rule The World....

Recently I have been conducting interviews for applicants for chefs de cuisine. Our restaurant chain is expanding, thank you,thank you. We're opening a string of branches more this year. Yes- it will mean more work on my part...ergo, I was advised by the seer to have lesser resistance. Soon, these men will be reporting to me and although the Emperor's expectations are up my neck...gosh...I decide to just let go.

Anyway, among the men I had down the line have very impressive resumes and their skill levels are truly way, way up my own. Placed alongside these men, this is my answer: I know nothing.

But what would you feel when, when you walk inside a room, your subordinates would bow at you and some of them would start kissing your hand? Who the bleep do you think you are- Queen Elizabeth?

I have said some time before that the gods do have a fine sense of humor. Sometimes I imagine them sipping nectar at Mount Olympus and way up from above they'd see you- a mere mortal- and appoint you to lead these knifed men. Well, I don't care anymore. Let the deities do what they will and just obey.

I have a very simple regimen to go through this. I wake up way before the sun is up. That way, you have that feeling of 'being the first', and that the world is all yours for the taking.

The parking spaces are quiet, and your neighbors are still snoring in their bed...

You jog down that bamboo- lined lane behind your building...

No one else there except you, and you half imagine yourself in a takenoko farm in Kyoto :)

The grass is damp, the evening lights are lit.

The world is sleeping, and yes, you're awake.

Even the children's playground is empty...

No, this is not your TV screen...

This is that open sky; that void wherein you reach out and declare in its infinity all your gratitude and all your trust.

- for what is it that we truly know?

Just give thanks that you are given numerous chances to grow in the wilderness...

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Red Potato Men- tori

Forget for now the pancake breakfast. When you constantly have to run against the clock, sometimes you can't help but cook while taking a shower.

There were red jagaimos in my rootcrop basket. I'm afraid they'd grow roots and crawl all over my place so I had to cook them immediately. And quick!

Red Potato Men- tori with Vanilla and Raw Wild Honey

300 grams red potatoes
1 pc vanilla bean (you can re- use those you formerly scraped and ravaged)
1/2 C raw wild honey
1 T butter

1. Wash, dry, then slice the potatoes wan-giri (round slices).
2. Smoothen the sharp edges of the potato slices by peeling it off with the knife. This method is called men- tori, commonly used for decorating vegetables. I was fascinated with this on the red potatoes because of the color contrast.
3. In a pan, place the potatoes then pour water about 1 cup or until the potatoes are partially covered. Plunge the vanilla bean. Cook over medium flame.

You can take a shower, while the potatoes are cooking. By the time you step out, about 15 minutes later, the potatoes are tender.

4. Remove the vanilla bean, transfer the potatoes on a bowl and pour some raw wild honey , then top off with a slice of butter.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

What In the World Does She Eat?

Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are. - Brillat- Savarin

Maybe it comes with age (God, I’m turning thirty this year), but these days I wake up earlier way before the sun is up, jog around the community, then drive with my sister to work. She drops me off near the train station while she reports at the air base.

Last night when I hauled all 8 kilos of clean laundry upstairs my sister did recognize that I have lost some weight. Wow. I love my life. I share a pad with my sister who lives next door to my own unit, because we had decided to have my room rented out. Talk about passive income! But I am a little worried when my brother-in- law, her husband, comes and stays with us for a few days some time soon. I might go back temporarily to our old apartment.

Ok, comes change in my waking time and my diet. No, I am not shedding off pounds for the summer but I just woke up to the realization that my usual food – the big breakfast of fried rice and eggs, and three giant meals a day make me feel drowsy and… huge. Suddenly I am no longer craving for crispy pata nor kare- kare, and if at times I had to eat them, I just take a small bite and that’s it. We’re no longer lovers now. I am neither following a weight loss/ diet program nor going vegetarian. Let’s say I just want simple things. The simpler, the better!

I go to work way before the official hours, so I stop by some café for breakfast. Within the vicinity there’s Café Adriatico which specializes in Filipino/ Spanish cuisine, and Krispy Kreme. I LOVE Krispy Kreme. Back in the old apartment we had boxes of them in the fridge. Ah, the ecstasy of Krispy and black coffee. But that morning I went for Café Adriatico. Doesn’t matter if my co- diners there were old men reading newspapers and Krispy Kreme’s were the chatty ladies with shriek- y voices. Is that the effect of too much sugar so early in the morning?
Café Adriatico’s hot chocolate is super. The authentic tsokolate, thick and natural.. I have a confession to make. Why I don’t want to drink on paper cups because I realize that… that since I was young, I had this habit of licking the rim of my mug/ cup with the tip of my tongue while I sip the beverage. That intimate part of the cup where you sip. The smooth, slippery porcelain surface all warm against your flesh. Oh sh-t. No one else has the right to use my coffee mug at home.

Breakfast. Hot chocolate, pan de sal, kesong puti (reminiscent of feta cheese). Again, please, no donuts before seven in the morning. Speaking of donuts, that same breakfast I was thinking what if someday I have my own children and they ask for donuts.

Oh, yeah, donuts, sure. Once as year. I might be a terrible mom. Poor children would be rolling on the floor asking for donuts while I look at them passively in my frilly skirt and stilletos. If they want ice cream, then we’ll churn our own ice cream. If they want a cookie, then we’ll bake cookies sans crystallized sugar. If they want chicken…go ask Solraya for those free- range birds. I will impose the laws: No sweets until you’re ten years old! No TV until you’re twelve years old!

Over the hot chocolate I was imagining, giggling over such silly things. Well, my ‘children’ will have an entirely different diet altogether. My husband, whoever the hell he will be, might as well get used to the art of pacifying little brats who are always denied with the tempting pleasures of the world.

These are breakfast musings.

Lunch. In the office I look around at what I could work on at the walk- in chillers and freezers. Arrived at this simple shrimp salad for lunch. For dessert, Choco crumble pastry – found inside my bag- two days old already :) Bought it from a convenience store at a gasoline station.

Afternoon snack. A piece of star apple.

Dinner. Dinners swing between simple pastas, brown rice or sandwiches. On most days of the week my sister and I meet some place somewhere and drive home together after work. Monday night we had easy spaghetti tossed with grilled asparagus, tomato and mushroom and drizzled with a little olive oil, topped off with cheese and some sprinkles of sea salt, garlic and assortment of herbs. My sister went crazy over this she said she’d make one for her husband. Some nights ago she made a great a dish from left over brown rice, tossed them in the pan with olive oil, mirepoix, and herbed egg omelet. Last night, (yeah, too lazy to cook), we had whole- wheat sandwich with lots of rabbit (romaine) greens , tomato, and the tuna salad that my wonderful sister made. Dessert is strawberry yoghurt.

And oh, special mention, we have dinners on this table all covered with my brother’s painting. Acrylic on canvass.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Japanese Knife Drills 101

I am undergoing the tutelage of Madam Sadako on further Japanese cooking in addition to the training I had in Japan two months ago. Although two lessons are similar in heart, they are still different in many ways. I start my lessons after work, that around 8:30 in the evening, instead of hot- oiling my hair, I am still chopping daikon. Sadako- san is a highly private woman who entertains like a geisha but cooks like a samurai. Having cooked for many, many years, she had lived in New York and has always been attached to Japanese cooking it already has become her second nature. I adore her. Imagine the Memoirs of a Geisha where the apprentice was being taught, but this time, it is not dancing but cooking.

Doing knife activities has a charm of its own, I don’t know, but I guess this knife lesson with Sadako-san distract me to all other things like… the valuable lessons of a knife and how a woman must love. Over the chopping board, I was told that no matter how your heart is knifed, just take it gracefully, and though tears cling at your eyelashes, just smile and bow. That makes a woman beautiful. A woman should be like a sword sheathed in a beautiful silk- where beauty is woven on the outside, a steel- like character must be kept inside. Sadako- san had said that love is not a feeling, but a will. One day, a dashing samurai on a horseback will come galloping over the hills and I will serve him with matcha. Well at least now I know how to serve and prepare authentic matcha.

So much about chopping board conversations. What can you expect, older woman who had seen life and asks about your love affairs, and a younger one who had just metamorphosed.

-alright, now where are we?

Knife drills.

Koguchi- giri. To cut into slices, a technique commonly used for long and narrow vegetables. To tell you the truth, barbaric as it may sound, but when the asparagus spears are way too narrow and tender, I just wash them thoroughly with baking soda and water but I… I don’t peel them anymore. Unlike carrots and radish, they don’t grow under the ground. When I tried to peel little spears years ago, I ruined the thing.

Ran- giri. To cut in rolling cubes. Also used for long and narrow vegetables.

Hangetsu- giri (to cut into crescents) and wan- giri to cut into round slice like coins. The thickness can vary though according to the dish. All the same, whether it is .5 or 1 cm, it is still termed as wan- giri, unlike French cuts where the name changes at every millimeter difference. The Japanese have this rule to always “cut against the fiber”.

Sasagaki shavings. It is used for shaving long and narrow vegetables, and such shaved vegetables make attractive garnish. To do sasagaki, make several scores about 5 mm lengthways with the tip of the knife. Then shave- cut while you rotate, like sharpening a pencil. The vegetable will end up like a sharpened pencil.

Shikishi- giri. To shape into square. Can be larger than a matignon (1cm x 1 cm x .5cm). Or can pass as matignon.

Julienne, or sen- giri.

Mijin- giri (to mince). Can be a little larger than brunoise by .5 mm. Brunoise.

Katsura- muki. This is my favorite cut. While Morimoto can already make a curtain out of a single daikon, I still take time and enjoy knifing through the flesh of the vegetable, almost quite certain that their structure is made for this type of cut. Insert the knife parallel to the ingredient. Then rotate the daikon towards the edge of the knife while slowly moving the blade.

When sliced further, becomes this. The katsuramuki however can be used to further cut into diagonal or julienne.

Yes, I enjoy this immensely.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Cafe Liegeois... and Why It is Good Luck to Help A Friend

Today is a happy day. Yesterday I passed what is supposed to be one of the toughest ordeals in my cooking career. Not to mention here the details but... you know, if you're smiling like a clam, you want to celebrate it over coffee or nice dessert.

This is a version of the cafe liegeois (leej- wah). Ask a French/ Belgian to pronounce it for you and rest assured he'll give you a better "zshwa". Like that. This is Belgian coffee dessert that is as good as it is easy to prepare. Made with coffee syrup (or espresso), mocha ice ice cream and cream Chantilly (sweetened cream flavored with vanilla), I personally prefer biting into the whole coffee beans on top. I luvit. This made my day yesterday.

Another reason to be happy is I got a new watch over coffee today. There's a story behind it though.

Three days ago, I saw this display of watches (Swatch) and I thought one of them was beautiful and I considered getting one. But then, schooling myself in self control against impulsive buying, I said if it's meant to be mine, then it will be. I went ahead with my day.

Then just this morning I met up with a friend over a morning coffee. I have been working with this fellow (for free) for two years now as I help him go through graduate school, i.e., reports, English translations, etc. Let's say, simply because I enjoy reading his books.

Then before the coffee ended from his pocket out came a watch. A Swiss watch. A Swatch. Much better (and costlier) than the one I would have wanted for myself. And I reckon it could stand the kitchen heat.

If you agree with me that there's such thing as magic, the Force, or whatever you call it, or that you just choose to be lucky... raise your hand and for sure that watch you are wearing also has a story of its own.

And hey, enjoy the coffee!