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Monday, December 22, 2008

A Sample Christmas Dinner

Having grown up in the Philippines, Christmas dinner highlights meant hamon (ham, from the spanish word jamon) and keso de bola (literally "cheese ball", from spanish queso meaning cheese, and "bola" for ball). The ham is usually store bought, with a sweet honey glaze, and the red ball of Edam cheese. Having turkey was not a usual thing in our household, so don't even ask if we had cranberry sauce.

This year, despite being several days early for the actual Christmas dinner, was an introduction to Christmas dinner, European style.

parsnip fries baked in the oven, leg of turkey, baked potatoes, and ham

This year's ham was made of a particular store bought pickled pork which was only discovered after quite some time of asking around (inquire through your butcher!), boiled with herbs and spices for a looooong time, but with extreme caution on the cooking time as the preference would still be slightly pink pork, as overcooked pork tends to be dry. Turkey was the best part - roasted in the oven until the skin was crispy and the meat moist and tender.... perfect with those potatoes, with a slight hint of pepper. Together with parsnips, this meal is not for the faint-hearted, make sure to wear elastic-waisted pants to make room for a lot of food!

Just a sampler, this one. With 3 days to go before Christmas, all that can be thought about is food actually!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Sesame Cookies

Baking cookies is not very time consuming, and having experimented with several cookie recipes over the past few months, the preference would still be to have a healthy snack, like this one. In light of the clean up before the New Year starts, the tahini in the fridge show a best-before date of January 2009, so a recipe calling for tahini was in order!



Sesame Cookies

To make this you would need:
1 cup wholewheat flour
1 cup sesame seeds
1 cup rolled oats (not instant)
1/2 cup chopped currants
1/2 cup chopped raisins
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
1/2 cup sunflower seeds (preferably chopped - but for this one, they were dumped in whole!)
1 teaspoon mixed spice
1/2 cup tahini
1 cup soy milk
1/2 cup honey


dry stuff
(note : in this instance, the nuts nor the dried fruits were not chopped - it just made it easier hehe!)

Mix dry ingredients well together in one bowl. Mix wet ingredients in another. Pour wet over dry ingredients, mix until combined, drop by heaping tablespoonsfuls on a cookie sheet lined with baking paper and cook for 15-18 minutes at 180C.

Easy, no?

(recipe inspired by a cookie recipe from dayzines.com - subscribe to the newsletter and you won't regret it!)

Eggs en cocotte

French cooking may be as simple as 1-2-3, like this dish, eggs en cocotte - a quick and tasty breakfast or a starter for a meal. "Cocotte" is the french term referring to a round or oval casserole, so actually 'eggs en cocotte' is a more 'sophisticated sounding' term for eggs cooked in a ramekin! Picked up the recipe from the New Concise Larousse Gastronomique, an 'encyclopedia' for cooks, 'a real must for an serious chef' (at least according to Jamie Oliver!).

The basic procedure eggs in cocotte is to break the egg into a buttered ramekin, place the ramekins in a pot filled with boiling water that reaches up to half the height of the ramekin (yes, a bain marie), and bake till the egg white is set to your liking, and with the yolk usually still soft. According to Larousse the oven setting would be 200C (pre-heated as usual), for 6-8 minutes, but the whites weren't set enough (well at least, as a personal choice), so these were in the oven for around 10-13 minutes.

Variation to the recipe would be very simple additions of very tasty stuff - 1 tablespoon of heated double cream on the bottom of the ramekin, break egg on top, add a knob of butter over the yolk, and sprinkle with grated parmesan cheese before putting in the oven.. and then some salt and cracked pepper on top just before serving. Others would use tarragon, or some other herbs and spices to flavor the eggs.


before and after

Simple breakfast, serve with some toast and coffee, and surely things can't go wrong!


Saturday, December 20, 2008

Mandala

Another Christmas gift came in the form of a voucher to a restaurant called Mandala. Being nearby, its menu has been quite familiar and had been meaning to give it a try, hence the much appreciated gift removed all excuse to procrastinate the exercise.

The menu is asian, but one cannot specifically say where exactly from asia, as it has different varieties that would suit almost everyone. Wonton parcels, crispy fried pork, apple chaat, to name a few - the starters sounds like a mix of indian and chinese cuisines. We sampled the asian anchovies with pickled vegetables and salt and pepper squid. The anchovies were wok tossed but unfortunately lacked the crispiness, but was easily forgiven because the spices and flavors were quite exquisite and nicely combined with hints of turmeric, spring onions and tomatoes. The squids were cooked just right and served with a dipping sauce that tasted similar to particular chinese vinegar. For the main dishes, a whole snapper served with blackberries (and some other berries like strawberries & blackcurrants) was quite a pleasant surprise. The soft shell crab with pickled plums, salad greens and toasted peanuts was also just sublime, making the palate a distinct playground of flavors. A much recommended dish, which you can have either with rice or roti, and a bottle of wine from the diverse selection of drinks.



whole snapper with blackberry and ginger chutney, and soft shell crab

The servings were quite big but in the spirit of Christmas the dessert cannot be foregone - hence the choice of Mandala Melt. Made of whipped mascarpone, cherries, pistachio nuts, and strawberries, it was an elegant finish to the meal.


Mandala Melt

And being slightly addicted to coffee, a long black made of organic beans sealed the deal. It was official - this restaurant will be visited again to try the other delectable sounding dishes in the menu. And yes, very much willing to pay for it the next time around.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Christmas Pudding

For those away from home the build up to festive periods often brings about a little homesickness and the wish to reach out to those in far away lands. One way to help fill the gap is to surround oneself with distant sounds and smells that evoke memories of times past. For this particular exile this usually takes to form of food and drink :)

With Christmas fast approaching the advent of a rainy weekend brought about the perfect opportunity to indulge in the preparation of one of my particular favourites, Christmas pudding…..Irish style!!!

A wide and varied recipe search amalgamated with memories of recipes past brought about the following concoction:

170g self-raising flour (if you can get Odlums, excellent!!!)
225g white breadcrumbs (slightly old will do)
340g dark brown sugar (muscovado is best)
450g currants
225g raisins
225g sultanas
115g mixed peel
1 tsp mixed spice
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
115g glace/maraschino cherries, quartered
55g ground almonds
zest of 1 orange
zest of 1 lemon
1 grated apple – skin on (preferably granny smith)
1 tbsp dark treacle
225g grated suet (or melted margarine or butter…margarine was used in this case) + more for greasing
3 eggs
90ml Irish Whiskey (Jameson here)
300ml Guinness


For the adventurous a couple of drops of Tabasco sauce add a nice little departure from tradition. If in doubt, perhaps best to leave out :)

Mix the dry ingredients together, thoroughly. Then add the wet, again mixing thoroughly.




Tradition has it that everyone in the household takes a turn at mixing; going it alone will soon expose the wisdom behind this particular tradition :)

The consistency should be wet (see above). Add more Guinness/Whiskey if not wet enough…more breadcrumbs if you go too far the other way.

When finished grease a couple of one litre/circa two pound pudding bowls, filling each to just under the rim with the mixture. Take a big piece of grease proof paper, fold in half and then fold back on one side leaving a 50mm flap in the middle. Do the same with tin foil. Place the grease proof paper over one of the bowls, taking some kitchen string to tie it tightly in place under the rim.


Repeat with the tin foil by placing it over the grease proof paper. Finally tie a string handle to the outer string; this is used to lift the pudding in and out of the steamer.

Repeat the above process for the second bowl.

Now for the easy bit. With the Whiskey and Guinness still within arms reach have a toast to the puddings….just one mind you!

Back to work!! Place each pudding in its own pot, add boiling water to three quarters the depth of the pudding bowl and place a tight fitting lid on the pot. Simmer for between six and eight hours.

When done lift the puddings from the pots, set aside and allow to cool.


If you can’t wait until Christmas then a sneak preview can be had by slicing the “muffin top” from over the top of each pudding.


Repeat the grease proof paper and tin foil steps again and stow away safely.

On the day itself the puddings will need to be steamed again, only for two hours this time. When done remove the puddings from the pudding bowls (upside down on a plate…to state the obvious).

Serve flaming (more whiskey), with your choice of cream, custard or brandy butter.

Pinakurat

A great find during the Filipino Fiesta was this dipping sauce called Pinakurat, a spicy vinegar made from Iligan, a province in the Philippines. (The city is also known as "Industrial Center of the South" and "City of Majestic Waterfalls", as it is home of at least 20 waterfalls, including the Maria Cristina Falls which is also a main source of hydroelectric power.)


Bought with a colleague for $8 for two bottles (special offer lang po!), this dipping sauce is advertised to be best with lechon (spit-roasted pig basted with special spices and with crispy crackling), barbeque (a passion that we Pinoys share with Aussies!), roasted meat or seafood. Nothing better than to give it a try to see if it delivers - and if you take my word for it, it surely does!



There was some excess ham fat that just didn't deserve to be thrown away... so it has been chucked in the oven for 1 hour at 190C after a good drizzle of olive oil and ground schezuan pepper.... and turned into nice, crispy crackling.


Serve with beer!

From the Pinakurat website : "Pinakurat is a traditional Iliganon (MC : i.e. from Iligan) dish made from wild boar meat “sulop” cooked only by a flame-shut pot of boiling coco vinegar, chilies, and spices. Since the taste of the vinegar is very similar to that of the dish, it was then named after it. Another surprising but practical reason is that the product presents a pleasant surprise that excites the senses to a taste long desired. The word pinakurat is from the word "kurat” which means surprise in Visayan vernacular. (MC : Visayan, or Cebuano, is the city's major language).

Pinoys love their "sawsawan", the dipping sauce, hence the Pinoy pantry will always have a soft spot for this very versatile dipping sauce.

It is also a testament to another typical Filipino trait - being world class! With stores in Ireland, UK and Australia, there may be a Pinakurat near you! Check out the FAQ's in the website here .

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Tales of Beedle the Bard

One of the early christmas gifts came in the form of The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K Rowling. It is composed of 5 children's tales, something like an equivalent of Aesop's fables but for the kids with magical background like wizards and witches.

Harry Potter fanatics would definitely be able to relate to the stories because of preliminary background earned from the Harry Potter books. There are specific terminologies, like the word "muggles" which refer to non-magical people. Though these are also explained briefly in the book, there would be a sense of familiarity, which provides more appreciation to the tales.

There were five stories in the book, and the book itself was a reference in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, where Albus Dumbledore has left the book to Hermione. It may just need a cup of coffee or tea and a lazy afternoon to finish the book as it is not very lengthy, but enough to feed the imagination, and a pretty good addition to the J.K. Rowling collection!

The proceeds of the book will also go to the Children's High Level Group, which is an independent dedicated child helpline. At least everyone gets a fair share!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Claypots

A planned trip to a "pay what you feel like" lentil fest in St. Kilda was foiled by a large gathering of upwardly mobile, fake hippie wannabies barricading the entrance with a very well organised display of "spontaneous" street fair.

Plan B was required! Well actually not really, located close by was a place named Claypots...yes, guess what they serve? A pretty busy, cosy little place that promised a seafood and vegetarian feast. It delivered. Mezze (or Meze, depending on your persuasion) was served first, a lovely selection of ray, gurnard, green beans, tomatoes, aubergine, orange, fennel and dill...all very tasty, going well with a very reasonable priced bottle of the house Sauv Blanc. The mains were a large share-sized gurnard, Moroccan and Cajun claypots. All fresh, tasty and plenty to fill a hungry foursome.

Turkish coffee stood out on the menu for afters; unfortunately it was only served in the adjoining bar....oh well :)

The bar was another cosy, although slightly less busy place with dark surrounds, old chord light bulbs hanging from the ceiling and emitting the kind of soothing crooner music that brings you back to the days of Dean and Ella and, well you know. The Turkish coffee was up to scratch and it was felt only right to follow that up by availing of the, again reasonably priced, Krusovice (a Czech beer) on tap. A few of those later and a sultry songstress started up on the piano belting out the same tunes in a manner not expected in such a small back street establishment...or is it :)

If only the slightly tipsy eighty year old would have quit grabbing the mic and let her get on with it.

All in all a very pleasant way to spend an evening and perhaps one more reason not to limit yourself to lentils!!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Easy Fudge

You'd be surprised at how easy it is to make fudge. Chocolate, butter, condensed milk, and that's it!
This recipe is made with a little booze and some fruit and nut just for extra crunch. Not sure if this recipe defies any fudge making rules but it turned out to be quite good so it's a keeper!

375 grams dark cooking chocolate chips + 1 175g bar of Lindt chocolate with hazelnuts
50 g butter
1 can condensed milk
1/2 cup mixed fruit soaked in a good glug of irish whiskey

Line a 9" square tin with cling film and set aside. Place a heat proof bowl over a pot of boiling water (a bain marie), put the chocolate and butter and mix until melted. Add the condensed milk, the fruits and whiskey, mix until well incorporated. Place in the square tin, refrigerate for a couple of hours (to make cutting easier) and cut into small squares. Serve to the willing chocolate addicts in the house!

Warm Green Salad

Discovered by accident during lunch preparation today was this dish that was supposed to be a chopsuey (stir fried veggies with a little bit of sauce from cornstarch dissolved in water). There were some leftover vegetables from last week's shopping, like cos lettuce, and though it felt wrong to toss it in a wok as it is best served fresh, it went into the pan since its no longer in its peak freshness (and we can't waste food!).

This dish is made of
half a red onion, chopped
garlic shoots, minced
about 3 handfuls of roughly chopped cabbage
about 2 handfuls of roughly chopped cos lettuce
1 fresh red chili, minced
half a carrot, chopped
half a green bell pepper, chopped
a dash of peanut oil, a dash of sesame oil, soy sauce and cracked black pepper for seasoning.

Very easy - in a very hot wok, heat some peanut oil then throw in the onion and saute until slightly translucent. Add in carrots, garlic shoots and red chili, move around for a while. Add the soy sauce and let sizzle for a bit, turn heat off and then add the bell pepper, lettuce and cabbage, toss in with the sesame oil, and serve immediately.

The peanut oil, sesame oil and soy sauce serve as a warm dressing to the veggies. Season with cracked black pepper. Nice twist to your usual salads!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Christmas Tree

It's that time of the year again! When people say "Christmas is just around the corner", it literally is, because time flies so fast. As the year draws to a close, the silly season arrives only to fly out of the window again, hence us mortals who revel in its presence must make the most of it while it lasts!

Part of the tradition is putting up the Christmas tree. Having grown up in south-east asia, the concept of a Christmas tree was that of a plastic, triangular pine tree that is taken out of the box together with the rest of the lovely, colorful trinkets, and of course the huge star to be lodged on top.

This year, in light of all things new and different, a small tree was purchased instead of a big "real" coniferous creature that has been cut down. This one is a Picea Glauca Albertiana Conica, a dwarf spruce.



Hopefully this tree will see more of Silly Seasons in the future, as it will eventually find its place somewhere in the garden, to be tended with the rest of the greens!

Growing Green!

It's been a while since we have updated stuff about the garden, hence here are snapshots of what became of some plants growing quietly in their own time!

There is a long sweet pepper, nice and green and currently looking very crispy!


Photo several weeks ago



and how it looks now

Part of the maintenance involves watering it with seaweed concentrate mixed with water. Still currently figuring out the best fertilizer to use, whether some home made compost which could be tricky to start with, or some store bought organic fertilizers.

There were also some coriander seeds that were left to germinate at the kitchen window sill, where there was some sunlight streaming in.


before


and after

The little green leaves behind the window (on the photo above) are the tomatoes snatched for free during a town fair. One of the fair's purpose was to encourage people to grow their own herbs and vegetables in their own homes. During that time, there were already several greens sprouting from little pots at the backyard, hence it was a pleasant surprise to get these little seedlings for free! And now well more than 1.5 feet in height!



...about to bear fruit too!



Friday, December 12, 2008

Singapore

Some of probably the most photographed places in Singapore!

The Symbol



The Esplanade


..except for this one, which is probably not often seen, but would have been captured elsewhere!

Monday, December 8, 2008

La Spaghetteria

A visit to Lygon Street for the annual Festa brought about a case of the munchies and what better way to satisfy those munchies than a visit to an Italian restaurant. A chatty spruiker ushered us through the door of La Spaghetteria with the promise of the best Italian food on Lygon Street. Unfortunately he has either never eaten there himself or is worthy of an Oscar.


The food and service was terrible. An order of oysters arrived late accompanied by some squirming worm type object. These were promptly returned with no apology or offer to take off the bill. The even later follow on past dishes (ravioli and carbonara) were cold, way undercooked and bland beyond belief. Even our attempt to make a quick exit proved unsatisfactory as trying to get someone to ring up the bill seemed too much to ask.

The worst Italian food I've ever eaten with service to match. A can of Chef Boyardees Ravioli served by Satan himself would leave this place for dust.

Addendum: A most excellent observation and horrendous omission on my part...thank you kind lady! :) How could I forget to mention the expressionless corpse manning the piano in the corner, lulling the clientele to sleep with what can only be described as supermarket aisle music.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

BLACK BUSH

A good spot during a visit to the purveyor of all things alcohol brought about the purchase of this little gem, Black Bush Irish Whiskey. Made by Bushmills, the oldest distillery in the world, this is lighter in colour than a lot of it's contemporaries but is a another example of a lovely smooth, mainly single malt, sipping whiskey. Malty and nutty there's the expected oak but also a slightly sweeter finish, a little research puts this down to the sherry-seasoned Spanish oak casks in which the whiskey is aged for it's last couple of years.


It is a little pricey on the Australian market but worth a try.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

African Taste

A long walk and the lunchtime munchies led to this pleasant little discovery in Seddon. African Taste, a non-pretentious little cafe serving just what the name suggests. Having had no previous experience of African food (well perhaps non-north African) this was a very well received introduction.


The cafe itself is a fresh looking small homely affair with whitewashed walls and seating for around 20 at peak. This time around we were greeted by the cook herself, beaming a smile while tending to her two small children. Menu's quickly changed hands, an order of Molokia (a Sudanese lamb and spinach dish) and Gomenne Be Ayeb (Ethiopian spinach ricotta with pita bread) were placed and the cook got to work.


What arrived to the table was a surprise, lovely presentation worthy of many an overpriced restaurant but here the outcome of a confident cook proud of her work. The taste matched up, a wonderful mix of fresh herbs and spices made the Molokia a very filling yet fresh tasting dish while the Gomenne Be Ayab was rich with a nice spicy kick. Service was welcoming, pleasant and attentive all at a reasonable price.
One for the recommendation list.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Smiley Face Down Under



From Yahoo News

On Monday across Australia, Venus and Jupiter were in formation with the moon to appear as a smiley face in the night sky.

The three-day-old crescent moon and planets appeared above the western horizon.

The unusual astronomical event was close enough to see with the naked eye from about 9pm.

Venus and Jupiter have appeared near each other in the evening sky for the past week but last night was the best time to see the smiley face.

It will be another five years before the formation appears again.

The phenomenon can be seen in the photo snapped by Yahoo!7 user Caroline from Victoria.

Sisig

This Filipino dish originated from a province in Central Luzon called Pampanga. Made of minced pork's cheeks/head and livers, it is a crowd favorite especially as a beer match (i.e. food or snacks taken while having a few drinks).


Pampanga

Coming off from the Filipino Fiesta over the weekend, it is just inevitable to come across this dish. As it is best served on a sizzling plate, it went straight to the hot plate on the barbie for a little sizzle, before a splash of hot sauce and a squeeze of lemon (in the absence of calamansi, the feisty Filipino version of this citrus)


sisig!

The origin of the dish (as per wikipedia) is said to have originated from locals who bought unused pig heads from the commissaries of nearby Clark Air Base in Angeles City, Pampanga. Pig heads were cheaply purchased since they were not used in preparing meals for the U.S. Air Force personnel stationed there. An alternate explanation of its origin is that it is but an innovative variation on an older recipe, which is pork ears and jowl, boiled, chopped then marinated. Lucia Cunanan was credited with inventing the dish... unfortunately several google searches later revealed that she had been killed by a thief

Now, sisig is available in different variants - tuna, fish, even tofu. Best served with one fresh egg added on top just before eating, so that it can be mixed with the entire dish on the sizzling plate.

A recipe is available here.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Samal Island, Davao, Philippines

Davao is the largest city of the Mindanao, the southernmost region of the Philippines. An hour flight away from the country's capital Manila, it is strategically located in the Asia-Pacific rim and serves as a gateway to both western and eastern hemispheres of the world. Check out the official website of the city here. It is also home to the waling-waling, the Queen of Philippine Orchids, durian (the King of Exotic Fruits), Mt. Apo (Grandfather of Philippine mountains, the tallest mountain in the country), the largest eagle in the world and the King of Philippine skies which is the Philippine Eagle, Davao as one of the largest cities in the world is really worth visiting.


where is Davao?

One of the best places to go to when in this city is Samal Island. There is a pier located just minutes from the airport, where a 5-minute boat ride can be taken to get away from the busy city life. In such a short span of time, one can already feel the huge difference of the hustle and bustle, compared to the serene seas that surround the island. Try Paradise Island Resort for a service that can never be forgotten, and even a view of Mt. Apo. Some snaps in the slideshow below.



Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sunny Skies



seen somewhere over Port Douglas, Queensland

Philippine Fiesta at Melbourne

watch out for this :
What : Fiesta!
When : 29-30 November 2008
Where : Philippine Community Center

This year's Philippine Fiesta’s theme is "Kabalikat sa pangangalaga ng Kalikasan at kapaligiran", or "In support of the conservation of nature and the environment".

Check out the details at the website : http://www.philfiesta.com/

Sunday, November 23, 2008

William Ricketts Sanctuary Contd.







A few additional shots from here.

Those Who Stopped By

Scribe's Notes

This pitstop is where incoherent ramblings seem to have meaning, where things or events are thought of and assessed, where great things are documented and perhaps any not-so-good happenings are written down in attempt to be forgotten!

So from the diversely abstract to the intensely specific, it's off to making tracks, and it is here where it stops for a thought or two.

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