Friday, December 23, 2011

Felices Fiestas

There's nothing like enjoying a good meal with dear friends during the holidays.  Two of my long-time friends (since the 3rd grade!) and I had our Christmas lunch in what I think is the best restaurant in Manila.   

Terry's serves exquisite Spanish food as well as other European inspired cuisine using only the finest ingredients as evidenced by what you can find in their gourmet store, Terry Selection.   It's one of those few restaurants that consistently serves great food and continues to exceed my expectations.  To whet our appetites, we ordered three-cheese croquettes, stuffed piquillo peppers, and torta Asturiana.  Croquette, or croqueta is thick bechamel sauce shaped into bite-size pieces, rolled in breadcrumbs, then fried.  Loved the crunch as I bit into each nugget followed by the creamy, cheesy bechamel.  Then came the piquillo peppers - stuffed, which is how they do it in the Basque country.  At the restaurant, they stuff the peppers with tuna belly and anchovy mayonnaise, which gives a velvety texture to the stuffing  The capsicum foam on the side added just the slightest heat. For the torta, the sliced potatoes smothered in Cabrales cheese did it for me.  One of my favorite cheeses, it is Spain's answer to the Roquefort. 
For our main dish, the Super Cochinillo Confit was the star of the lunch party.  For me, it is Terry's best signature dish.  Super tender pork with crispy, wafer-thin, skin.  Served with arroz bomba risotto, caramelized onions and Calanda peaches, drizzled with rich, Muscovado syrup, it was a feast for us three.  Happy holidays indeed.
Another main was the Angel's Nest.  It's a pasta dish with shrimps, diver's scallop and squid in a Gruyere and Emmental sauce.  Perfect balance of cream and cheese; not heavy, as you would expect from a cream-based sauce.  Perfectly cooked seafood and the noodles had a light creamy texture in every bite.  It's a shame there was only one melt-in-your-mouth scallop that we had to divide in three.  
Now we all know that a meal won't be complete without dessert.  With all that savory food, would there still be room for more?  Of course there was.  Plenty.

The Chocolate Marquesa is simply to die for.  It is, like they say, pure bliss.  Rich, decadent frozen chocolate mousse topped with crushed almond praline.  Words can't describe how good it tastes, you just have to try it yourself.  Equally good is the Tocino de Cielo, a flan that is thicker, richer, sweeter than the one we're used to.  

Food takes center stage whenever we celebrate, specially at Christmas when we enjoy it with our loved ones.  It is, after all, the season for sharing.

Happy holidays!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Holiday Goodies

The kitchen is in an organized mess for the holidays.  This season, I want to make something personal to give to family and friends, so I made holiday sugar cookies.  I wonder if they'll have a hard time eating the cookies because I certainly would.
At first, I couldn't control my arm from shaking but got used to it as I went along.  I definitely felt the strain from all that piping, but it was worth it.  There was even a moment when I had second thoughts giving them away!
 Enjoy the holidays!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Chili Con Carne, Texas-style

Last week on Top Chef the challenge was to cook chili since they are, after all, in Texas this season.  I found out that the authentic Texas chili has no beans.  No tomatoes either; just meat - beef chuck and/or brisket, chili paste, and a few flavorings.  How I wished I could taste every dish each team made as they all looked so good.  But then again I could just make one using siling labuyo, or bird's eye chili.  For the base, I used dried chilies since a handful of these is enough to pack loads of heat in a kilo of meat.
The secret to making this dish is in your source of heat.  Making a paste from scratch using dried chilies makes all the difference, as opposed to just using fresh ones.  I lightly toasted the chilies then soaked them in hot water to rehydrate.  I then put them in the food processor with a bit of water, some cumin, black pepper and salt to make a chili paste.
Brown the meat, put in the stock and the chili paste and let it simmer until tender.  Add a tablespoon of vinegar towards the end - this gives a nice acidity and dimension to the dish.  After about two hours of simmering you get a thick stew that is not only spicy but flavorful as well.  Top with sour cream or plain yogurt.  Best served with bread to mop up all that sauce.

Texas Chili con Carne recipe:
  • 25 grams (about 5 Tbsp.) dried bird's eye chili (siling labuyo)
  • 1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
  • salt
  • 5 Tbsp. oil
  • 1 kg. boneless beef chuck or brisket, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 cups beef stock
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 Tbsp. cornstarch, dissolved in 1 Tbsp. water
  • 1 Tbsp. brown sugar, plus more as needed
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp. white vinegar
  • Sour cream or plain yogurt
  • lime wedges
1. Place the chilies in a frying pan over medium-low heat and gently toast them (no oil) until fragrant.  Don't let them burn.  Place the chilies in a bowl and cover them with hot water and soak until soft, 20-30 minutes.

2. Drain the chilies; split them and remove stems and seeds.  Place the chilies in a food processor and add the cumin, black pepper, 1 tablespoon salt and 1/4 cup water.  Puree the mixture until a smooth paste forms.  Set aside.

3. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a stewpot.  When it begins to smoke, add half of the beef.  Lightly brown the meat then transfer to a bowl and repeat with 2 more tablespoons of oil and the remaining beef.  Reserve.

4. Let the pot cool slightly, and place it over medium-low heat.  Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil; add the onion and garlic and cook gently for 3-4 minutes.  Add the stock, 2 cups water and gradually whisk in the dissolved cornstarch.  Stir in the chili paste, scraping the bottom of the pot with a spatula to loosen any browned bits.  Add the browned meat (and any juices in the bowl) and bring to a simmer over high heat.  Reduce heat to maintain the barest possible simmer (just a few bubbles breaking the surface) and cook, stirring occasionally until the meat is tender, about 2 hours.

5. Stir in the brown sugar and vinegar thoroughly and add more salt to taste.  Gently simmer 10 minutes more.  Turn off the heat and let the chili stand for at least 30 minutes, during which time the meat will absorb about half of the remaining sauce in the pot, leaving a thick sauce.  Adjust the balance of flavors with a bit of additional salt, sugar, or vinegar.

6. Serve in bowls with a dollop of sour cream (or yogurt) on top and a lime wedge on the side.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Sunday Roast

Roast meat is a great dish to serve when you have a gathering at home.  It’s not demanding when it comes to ingredients and the best part is once it’s in the oven you can leave it and tend to your leisure.  When roasting beef, the most common is the topside that’s cut off the bone and rolled into a roast.  There’s also the rib eye and sirloin.  I wanted something different and sinful so I went for the belly.  That's what weekends are for, at least to me anyway: to some guilty pleasure.  Just salt, pepper, garlic and of course meat - I could make something really delicious.
Slow-roasting a hefty chunk of meat would allow me to relax and read a book while I wait for my guests to arrive.

I remember the first time I had this in Cirkulo back in 2006.  The meat was so tender there was hardly any effort chewing on my part.  I didn't know until recently that they have the recipe on their site.  Well not so much the recipe but the technique behind achieving insanely tender, juicy meat.

We couldn't wait to sink our teeth into this: 

What's your weekend guilty pleasure?

Slow-Roasted Beef Belly (adapted from Cirkulo restaurant):
  • 1 kg. boneless beef belly
  • 1/4 cup whole peppercorns
  • 1/4 cup rock salt
  • 1 head of garlic, minced
Once meat is defrosted, let it sit at room temperature for an hour before roasting in the oven.  Preheat oven to 280°F/140°C.

Crush the peppercorns, then combine with salt and garlic to form a paste.  Rub on top of beef.

Place beef on a rack and onto roasting pan.  Cook at 280F for 4-5 hours until tender.  Oven temperature must be this low in order to break down the connective tissues of the meat so you get a melt-in-your-mouth, succulent roast beef.  Test for tenderness after 4 hours.  Once done, remove from oven and rest for at least 1 hour before slicing.


Thursday, December 8, 2011

White Chocolate Wasabi Macarons

I think I finally found a fool proof recipe for making that little devil of a cookie that is the French macaron.  Although the ingredients are pretty simple, once you overbeat the batter you might as well throw the whole lot because your cookies will never have its most important characteristic - the foot.  That round even circle at the bottom of the cookie that has more texture and is about 2 millimeters thick.  All the recipes I've encountered on the internet and in cookbooks call for the folding of the dry ingredients into the whipped egg whites, so as not to deflate it.  I've been making macarons for about 3 months now and I still can't quite get the folding right.  I always tend to underbeat the batter, which results in a chewy macaron.  Meh.

I came across Jill Colonna's Mad About Macarons! cookbook the other day and her approach is totally different.  She just mixes the beaten egg whites into the dry ingredients.  Yes, mixing well until you achieve "ribbon" consistency.  No need to fold.  No need to rap the baking sheets on the table to get the air bubbles out.  Now that I had to try.  The result?  Beautiful macarons without air pockets and of course, perfect little feet.
For the filling, chocolate ganache is my favorite.  Here I used white chocolate instead of the usual dark or milk chocolate since I prefer white with wasabi.  But go ahead and use whichever you like best. 
I made a paste mixing wasabi powder and water then incorporated it to the hot cream.  If you can't be bothered, you could just use ready-made wasabi paste from the tube.  I ended up putting about 2 teaspoons of wasabi paste since I remembered that the spiciness diminishes once the ganache cools and sets. 

basic Macaron recipe, from Jill Colonna's Mad About Macarons!  (makes 30-35 macaron shells):

50 grams egg whites, room temperature
33 grams caster sugar
60 grams ground almonds
90 grams confectioner's sugar

Using a hand or stand mixer, whisk the egg whites to form glossy, firm peaks adding the caster sugar gradually.  If making colored macarons, add coloring towards the end of mixing.

Sift the ground almonds with confectioner's sugar using a sieve.  Mix well to incorporate confectioner's sugar and almonds.

Incorporate the beaten egg whites into the dry ingredients using a large spatula.  Mix well.  There is no need to fold the mixture.  Do this for no more than 5 minutes until you have a smooth.  The result should form a soft and brilliant mixture that forms a "ribbon" on the spatula.  

Transfer the mixture to a piping bag with a plain tip (around 1 cm diameter), then pipe on to  parchment-lined baking sheets (around 3 cm/1.5 inch-diameter rounds)

Leave for about 30-40 minutes to set, or until they are dry to the touch.  Do not skip this part, as this step helps produce the feet.

While they are setting, preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C.  Bake the cookies in the center of the oven, one tray at a time for about 10-12 minutes.

White Chocolate Wasabi Ganache filling:

1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
1/2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 1/2 tsp. wasabi paste
pinch of salt

Place white chocolate chips in a bowl.  Bring heavy cream to a boil in a small saucepan.  Add wasabi paste.  Pour the hot cream mixture into the bowl containing chocolate.  Stir constantly until smooth, then add the butter and pinch of salt.  Leave to cool in the fridge for about an hour.  Transfer to a piping bag and pipe filling onto shells.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Eggs eggs eggs

Whenever I cook medium-boiled eggs, I hardly ever succeed.  Today however, the stars somehow aligned in my favor to permit me to achieve eggs with a slightly (just a tad) runny, super moist yolk - perfect. 

My best friend, who can't seem to get enough of runny egg yolks (she can eat up to 4 yolks in those hotel breakfast buffets!), came to the house in the afternoon so we could have a go at this egg recipe she found on the internet ages ago but never really had the chance to make it.  With the luck I had with the boiled eggs I might as well keep on rolling.  It's basically fried egg in the middle of a slice of bread, topped with cheese, then sandwiched with another egg-bread.  We swooned as soon as the yolk oozed out when the sandwich was cut in half.  Lovely magma-like yellow goodness.  Without a doubt this would be great perfect for breakfast.

recipe (from Serious Eats):

2 slices of bread
2 eggs
a slice or two of your favorite cheese (we used Cheddar and American)
2 Tbsp. butter

Using a round cookie cutter, cut a hole in the center of each slice of bread.  (It's up to you what you want to do with the round cutouts).  In a frying pan, melt 1 Tbsp. butter and put the bread slices to toast one side until it's lightly browned.  Distribute remaining butter to the center of each slice of bread, let it melt then crack an egg on each hole.  Season with salt and pepper and cook until the eggs can be easily lifted from underneath with a spatula.  Carefully flip each slice of bread and place a slice of cheese over each one.  

Once the bottoms of both slices of bread are lightly browned, carefully close the sandwiches and cook for another minute or two until they are deeply browned and the cheese is fully melted.

Since this post is about eggs I also made quiche, one of my all-time favorites.  I made my own crust using lard, which I rendered from guess what - pork fat, of course. The result is a much tastier, flakier crust that goes very well with the fluffy egg mixture of the quiche.  Before you roll your eyes in disgust, pork lard is not as unhealthy as most people believe it to be.  It contains less poly-unsaturated fat and trans fat than vegetable lard or shortening.  Using lard instead of shortening may be an affront to most people but I simply don't think it tastes anywhere near as good as lard - or butter - for that matter.  Yes, shortening yields malleable dough and flaky crusts, but flaky yet flavorless is not what I enjoy.  And no, the crust does not - and will not - taste like bacon.

For this dish, I used bacon and caramelized onions for the filling.  The sweetness of the onions was a nice contrast to the salty bacon.

How about you, how do you like your eggs cooked?

Bacon and Caramelized Onion Quiche (adapted from SimplyRecipes):
  • 1 recipe pie dough (see lard crust recipe below)
  • 30 ml olive oil
  • 2-3 large large white onions (about one pound total), thinly sliced
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 60 ml milk
  • 60 ml heavy cream
  • 3 large eggs
  • Pinch nutmeg
  • 100 grams Gruyère cheese, grated (or any cheese you like)
  • 4 strips of bacon, cooked to a crisp and roughly chopped
Pre-bake the crust
Roll out the dough into a large circle about 1/8-inch thick.  Using a round cookie cutter, cut out circles 4 to 5 inches in diameter and press the circles into a muffin pan.  Once you've filled the pan, refrigerate it for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Poke the bottom of the muffin pan with the tines of a fork.  Bake for 15 minutes or until lightly golden.  Remove from oven and let cool a few minutes while making filling. 

Caramelizing the onions and preparing the quiche
Heat olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed sauté pan on medium heat. Add the onions and sprinkle a little salt over them. Cook, stirring occasionally for 10 minutes, until the onions have softened and are translucent. Reduce the heat to medium low and cook for an additional 40 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are well browned.  Remove from heat. 

Sprinkle half the cheese evenly over the bottom of the crusts. Spread onions over the cheese, followed by the bacon.  Top with remaining cheese. In a medium bowl, whisk together milk, cream, and eggs. Season with nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Pour over cheese. Transfer to oven and bake until just set in the center, 15-20 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for about 10-15 minutes before serving.

Lard Crust (makes 6-8 muffin-sized pie crusts):
  • 85 grams cold pork lard
  • 125 grams all-purpose flour
  • 10 grams (1.5 Tbsp.) sugar
  • 2 grams (1/4 tsp.) salt
  • 2 grams (1/4 tsp.) baking powder
  • 60 ml. (1/4 cup) cold water
Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a food processor and pulse three or four times to mix.  Scatter the cold lard over the flour mixture, and pulse for around 4 long bursts until the mixture resembles wet sand.  Drizzle in the cold water and pulse until the dough holds together.

Turn the dough onto a clean, floured work surface.  Gather the dough together in a mound, then knead it a few times to smooth it out.  Gently pat and press into a disc shape about 1 inch thick.  Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to 3 days.