Lassi Wishes & Bollywood Dreams

I have always wanted to go to India. I am fascinated by its culture, its food, its movies, and even its pop music...and did I mention its food? Indian food was, for me, love at first bite. It just kinda knocked my socks of in terms of flavor. Cumin, cardamom, cayenne, ginger, cinnamon, turmeric, pepper, fennel seed...they make me sigh with pleasure and transport me to far-off lands! I like dishes that make their presence felt, that have a taste and aroma that will not be ignored...exotic and strong and full of passion. This is Indian food for me.

There are a number of good Indian restaurants in Manila but one of my favorites is a little place in Legaspi Village called Swagat. I discovered it when I was still working in that area and have returned many times since. They have an extensive menu which includes vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes, a good variety of Indian breads, and some great desserts. You've got Biryanis and Pullows (rice dishes), Paneers (dishes made with Paneer, a homemade Indian cheese, kinda like cottage cheese), Dals (lentil dishes), Raitas (yogurt dip-like sidings), Pakoras, Samosas...the list goes on and on. You will see your old favorites (Roghan josh, goat meat cooked with coriander leaves, tomatoes and flavored spices, is mine) as well as things you haven't yet heard of and are yet to be discovered.

During this visit we had (pictured above, clockwise from top left) Paneer Korma, Roti, Sangam Biryani, and Mutter Palak. Paneer Korma is pretty much a standard when I go. It's paneer cooked with onions, tomatoes and different spices. It has just the right amount of creamy-ness, the acid in the tomato acting as a good counter and adding to the taste, and is very flavorful but not too spicy (so good for people who don't eat spicy, although I am not one of those people). Perfect for dipping our Roti, their whole wheat flat bread. If you aren't into spicy food a Korma (they have Chicken Korma too) would be a good bet as it is one of the mildest spice mixes/sauces. It uses grated coconut, coconut milk, or yogurt which is what brings down the spice factor and gives it its creamy-ness. You can also order a raita to counter the spicier dishes. I usually get the Cucumber and refreshing.

The Sangam Biryani and the Mutter Palak were both firsts for me this time. I usually order a pullow (the Kashimiri Pullow is my favorite -- it has currants and nuts and spices) and order my meat dish separately (usually the Roghan Josh), as the biryanis already have the meat mixed in (unless you order a vegetable biryani). But hey, variety is the spice of life, right? Anyhoo, the Sangam Biryani was a very pleasant surprise, rich and tasty and moist, as I find a lot of biryanis I've had before to be a little dry. It has both chicken and lamb in it, and both I found very tender and well blended with the spicy flavors of the rice. The Mutter Palak was the first dish among the vegetarian specialties that I tried (as I don't often wander into the vegatarian portion of menus). It turned out to be a real winner! Peas and spinach cooked with a blend of herbs and spices with gave the dish a good strong character that enhanced rather than overpowered the flavor of the vegetables. I vow to try more of the vegetarian stuff soon.

To complement the spicy nature of the food we had some Sweet Lassi, which is a sweet yogurt and milk drink. I have always liked lassi and try to have it every time I'm at an Indian restaurant. It also acts as an excellent "fire extinguisher" to cool your toungue after an extra spicy spoonful of food.

I never leave Swagat without having some Gulab Jamun for dessert, going as far as to pre-order it before ordering any of our mains. It's described in the menu as a "cheese ball", but it's more like a sponge-y ball of dense cake, with a hint of cheese, soaked in syrup. It is heavenly. And has been a favorite Indian sweet of mine since childhood, when a nice lady in my neighborhood use to make and sell it. To top everything off, a cup of hot Masala Chai, tea brewed with milk and spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, pepper, and ginger. It's my favorite and spicy, milky but strong.

Sated, we lean back in our chairs as our waitress brings us our hand written bill. No service charge and a good deal for all we had consumed.

Their food is what I feel is good, authentic, and absolutely delicious Indian cooking. It's run by Mrs. Komal Khanchandani, who moved here from India with her family eight years ago. She cooks all the meals herself. It's a simple place, with none of the trappings of higher-end Indian restaurants, but what it lacks in gold tureens and belly dancers it makes up for in great home cooked Indian food and a TV that plays Bollywood movies all day long (this is a definite bonus in my book!).

Swagat Indian Cuisine
119 FCC Building, Rada St.
Legaspi Village, Makati City
Tel: 7525669

Breakfast # 3: Yogurt Sundae

Are you ever in the mood for something a little festive in the mornings? I am. Sometimes a little ingenuity can go a long way...even if it just means calling your yogurt a sundae and tricking your morning-muddled brain into thinking, "Wow, isn't this special!" That's what I did this morning...

First a note: I love yogurt. And I will love it whether it is plain, eaten straight out of its little container, or whether it is piled with delectable add-ons and christened "Paradis Latin Yogurt Extravaganza". I always buy it plain (Oh how I wish I could make my own! Soon...) so I start with a nice blank palette which I can embelish...or not. But some mornings (and you know which mornings those are) definitely call for some embelishment.

So, onwards...

1. Find a nice sundae-like container.
2. Put in some fruit. I used fresh pineapples, because why live in a tropical country if you can't have fresh pineapples from your neighbor's farm right?
3. Pour in the yogurt. Still plain store bought for me (sigh), but one day I will make my own! There have been attempts but the end-product was too sour...I think our starter was a bit persnickety.
4. Sprinkle (liberally) with your crunch factor. I used crunchy muesli, but you can use granola or nuts or a mixture of all of the above. Again this is store bought, but there are some yummy sounding granola and muesli recipes out there that I am quite excited to try.
5. Slip in something sweet and syrupy (again liberally, unless you have no sweet tooth). I used the lovely chestnut flower honey made by Agrimontana.
6. You can choose to now adorn it with some useless but charming accessory like a plastic monkey or a cocktail umbrella...but I didn't have any.

I feeling mighty fine now, and despite the weird weather (our rainy or WET season is starting) I have the urge to proceed in flip flops and a nice tank top.

Breakfast # 2: Ham & Eggs Stack

Another morning in life and I find myself scrounging around our fridge for favorite of meals and the backbone of any good day. Lo and behold, I find some roasted ham bought from the Salcedo market. Mmmm, I feel my tummy wanting some traditional ham & eggs! A simple, easy, breakfast staple. Yes, can do.

I chose some country bread as my carbo/starch and set about making my "stack":

1. Toast three pieces country bread (or any kind of bread you're in the mood for or have on hand...I think this would also be great with the Monroe bread they make at Ji-Pan or maybe a bread that's got cheese in it).
2. Prepare a soft-scrambled egg (I only used one egg). Sprinkle a bit of salt on the scramble after it has finished cooking. You can try this with a fried or poached egg as well.
3. Fry the ham lightly with a little oil (I used olive oil but feel free to substitute). I used the roasted ham because it was on hand and because it had a good fat-marbling, but you can use a leaner ham if you're not a horrible fat-fanatic like me.
4. Stack them up! Bread-egg-bread-ham-bread...or any which way you please!

I had my stack with some chopped tomatoes on the side to offset the fatty-ness of the ham. Simple, delicious, perfect...a good start to another day.

Meet my Sushi Gang!

I'm a serious sushi addict and I need a fix relatively often. I crave for it constantly and when I do, I can't be deterred..."Need. Sushi. NOW." I tend to favor those that involve nothing but raw fish and sushi rice. Like Flipper and Shamu, I just love raw fish! (that goes for raw fish from other culinary cultures raw herring in The Netherlands, served with raw onions...yowza!) There are some exceptions, of course, like Unagi (freshwater eel, that is served cooked), which is also among my list of favorites. And the madcap fusion-sushi created by avant garde chefs who take it to a whole other level. That I find myself enjoying as well. Anyhoo, I am off on a tangent again (!), because of my little fixation, I can never really speak with authority about any other non-sushi dish served in a Japanese restaurant. I usually just head for the sushi bar, plunk myself down, and indulge. (This is a bit sad I know, but more for me to discover later on I guess...)

One such craving day found me at Kuretake, the Japanese restaurant in Powerplant Mall, Rockwell where I already have a favorite seat at the bar...and where I am sure the sushi chefs hate me for badgering them every time I am there! Hee, hee...

Kuretake is owned by the esteemed Mr. Tsumura of Sushi Tsumura...some say the best sushi place in town. I have been there and I have to say, inspite of its sketchy location (which further endears itself to me actually), it is excellent. The sushi is super fresh and is (as the name connotes) what they specialize in. Sit at the bar and you may get a free goodie :-) The sushi at Kuretake is a tad more affordable, and it also serves a whole range of Japanese food (of which I have yet to sample).

And so, without further ado, let me introduce you to my little friends at Kuretake! I love them to bits and each has their own look and personality...

Pictured above you see (from left to right):

Unagi - Unagi is a freshwater eel and is usually served cooked. It's got a delicious sticky-sweet glaze on it that complements perfectly its fatty nature (I like almost anything that has got a "fatty nature"). This guy is both sweet and your favorite ex-boyfriend. Unagi is a true charmer! He is dashing and debonair with the right amount of danger mixed it, but underneath it all, he is a real mushy guy. You may also want to meet his cousin, Anago (Conger eel), who is a saltwater eel, and a little more mild mannered.

Negitoro - Negitoro is chopped up Toro (Fatty Tuna Belly) with negi-onions (those little green onions you see peeking out) in a roll. Toro for me is one of the best sushi (or sashimi for purists) you can find, at least in my opinion. Why do I like it so much? Why, for it's "fatty nature" of course! The fish is incredibly rich and fatty and just sends me! When you dip it in your soy sauce you immediately see little oil spots floating about. Ooooh... Anyhoo, the downside is that Toro is VERY expensive. One of the most expensive sushi/sashimi around. The alternative? The lovely Negitoro! As they only use a little chopped up Toro and mix it with the green onions, it doesn't cost nearly as much as a full order of Toro sashimi, but still maintains a distinct Toro taste and fattiness, as well as taking on a new flavor of its own with the green onions (which lends a little kick). She is one hot number! If she wasn't Japanese she would be a belly-dancing-boyfriend stealer! Another less costly alternative to Toro (although more costly than Negitoro) would be Chutoro, which is a medium fatty tuna taken from the upper belly. But if you really want to go all out there is also Otoro, the fattiest tuna, but I haven't found it here yet (sigh).

Ama-ebi - Aaah, my little Ama-ebi, a sweet shrimp usually served raw, and for me, leaps and bounds above the regular Ebi sushi (which is cooked). Its flavor is so delicate with just a tinge of sweetness. I love to just hold it in my mouth and enjoy the moment...which is always over too soon. In Kuretake, they fry the head with salt and serve it to you separately for an equally good, if totally opposite in taste to the Ama-ebi, eating experience. The salty-crunchy head, which is served hot, is the perfect foil for the soft and sweet body, which is served cold. Ama-ebi is like the best friend who always showered you with presents from her kitchen and wore soft pink sweaters with pearls and never cussed in her life. She is the one you will tell your mother you are with when you are really off on a wild fling with Unagi. What I am dying to try however is Odoro-ebi, which is known as "dancing shrimp", and is Ama-ebi served live! If anyone knows who serves this here, please pass on the information!

Hamachi - Another fatty one! I am sure you can see a trend here. Hamachi is Yellowtail, a migratory game fish similar to tuna. It's lighter in color and fattier (me and fat...great combination) and is delicious! Hamachi is an old favorite and a regular on my sushi plate. Hamachi is like that friend you made at college who shared all your wild-college-oat-sowing adventures with but who, to this day, remains and important voice in your life.

Mamakare - Mamakare is baby sardines marinated in vinegar. Very similar to Saba (Mackarel). As I like a lot of cured fish dishes (kilawin, ceviche, boquerones en vinagre), whether cured in vinigar or citrus juice, I like this one as well. Since it's been prepared in vinegar, people averse to rawness can happily partake. It's got a strong flavor stemming from both the type of fish it is and the vinegar its been marinated in. Being a sucker for good-looking stuff as well (we all have our shallow-selves), I like its shiny-silvery skin. Reminds me of my best friends earrings. Mamakare is much like the friend you have (we all have!) that is always so perfectly put together with not a hair out of place.

And lastly (but definitely not leastly), Aji:

Aji (right above) is Spanish Mackerel or Horse Mackarel and is another favorite. It's served raw topped with finely chopped green onions. And it comes with it's own little containment unit of soy sauce. This is so its chopped onion topping does not fall into a bowl of soy sauce whilst dipping. Smart no? This fish has a really good flavor, stronger than your usual Maguro (Tuna). Onions and raw fish seem to go perfectly together, the sharp onion-y taste cutting the fishy-ness of the fish (which I guess is why they pair the raw onions with the raw herring in The Netherlands too). Aji is an absolute metrosexual...much like the guy who brings way more beauty products on an out-of-town trip than most of your girlfriends combined.

Sigh...I do love all my delicious little friends. Can't wait till the next sushi-hankering. There is still a whole world of them out there...but that's for another post ;-)

Sushi Tsumura
3rd Floor, Bankwise Building
Pasay Road, Makati
Tel: 8121393

R1-Level Powerplant Mall, Lopez Drive
Rockwell Center, Makati
Tel: 8980509

Roast Chicken with Grapes

I found this glorious recipe for roast chicken on Simply Recipes. Elise has a wonderful and comprehensive site with great recipes and shopping alerts (you can check out her site for good deals with Amazon). Her main site also links to her other sites which include book reviews, inspirational quotes, mp3 downloads, a photo gallery, and even a tutorial site for learning movable type. Nice.

Anyhoo, moving on, I was looking for a good roast chicken recipe (god knows there are tons out there!) and this one caught my eye because...well, because it had grapes and wine and that sounded just too luxurious for me to pass up! You can find the recipe here. I changed it around a little because:

1. I didn't have fresh rosemary, so I had to use dried.
2. There was a bottle of champagne already more than half empty left over from a runaway batch of breakfast-mimosas we had for a decadent brunch. It was begging to be I obliged and used it instead of the white wine. I poured it into the pan (but not over the chicken yet!) before I stuck it in the oven and just basted with the champagne/chicken juices mixture that formed in the pan.

The recipe has you cook the chicken breast side down, which is supposed to keep the breast moist. And boy, did it! This was, without a doubt, the moistest breast meat I have every tried. So juicy! And the flavor the grapes and champagne lent the chicken was incredible. The overall picture it created, with the chicken back nicely browned, and the grapes and lemons floating about, was pure "welcome-to-my-humble-vineyard". I called over my granny to come over for dinner. It was a resounding success. There will definitely be a repeat performance.

A little note: You can't seem to see the grapes in this picture. They were there, I swear it. They were just camera-shy.

Meme: The Cook Next Door

I have been tagged by Karen of The Pilgrim's Pots and Pans for a meme: The Cook Next Door. I have read a number of them already, and positively enjoyed all the answers from the wealth of cooking and baking talent out there in the blog-o-sphere, so here is my little contribution...

What is your first memory of baking/cooking on your own?
I used mash a bunch of Milo (powedered chocolate drink) with a little bit of water, not letting it get liquidy but just mushy and sticky. I gave it to my younger brother and told him it was "fudge". For quite sometime after he badgered me with demands for this "fudge" and to this day remains my #1 tester of anything I make.

Who had the most influence on your cooking?
My mother, father, and my grand-aunt. All great cooks in their own right. On my dad's side of the family all the men cook so they talk about it constantly. My grand-aunt (mother's side) got me into baking. My mother taught me the importance of having "signature dishes". I have tried making some of hers...but haven't tried her famous Osso Buco (Italian veal dish, braised or a stew) yet because the performance pressure would just prove too much for me.

Do you have an old photo as "evidence" of an early exposure to the culinary world and would you like to share it?
No photo, sorry! Although if I scrounged through enough boxes I could probably find more than one of me stuffing my face!

Mageiricophobia - do you suffer from any cooking phobia, a dish that makes your palms sweat?
YES! Not any particular dish but cooking for a crowd. It's the whole expectation thing that makes my knees knock. The tense moment as everyone takes their first bite and I try to look oh-so-cool as I sit there thinking, "Will they like it? Am I The Great Pretender?" Suffice to say I have mastered the art of cooking for one. When I want to cook more than a single serving, but don't want the performance anxiety, I just cook for my brother the Tester.

What would be your most valued or used kitchen gadgets and/or what was the biggest letdown?
Hmmm, the espresso maker would probably top my list of most loved and used gadgets (if it can be considered a gadget) since I love coffee and can't really properly function without it. Biggest letdown? This fish scaler I got that doesn't really properly function and has not seen the light of day in ages.

Name some funny or weird food combinations/dishes you really like and probably no one else.
Mayonnaise with anything. I also make this kick-ass sandwich composed of butter, cheese, bacon, and stroop (a Dutch treacle syrup which is dark and thick and VERY sticky).

What are the three eatables or dishes you simply don't want to live without?
Chocolate, foie gras, and "chicharon with laman" (pork rind WITH the fat).

Favorite ice cream?
Chocolate...with brownie bits.

You will probably never eat again?
Durian. Without a doubt. It's a tropical fruit native to Southeast Asia and famous for it's, uh, unforgettable aroma. The taste is pretty unforgettable as well. Those who love it, love it with a passion that is powerful. Those who don't...well, let's just say I fall under that category.

Signature dish:
I really don't want to say Pineapple Upside Down Cake. I really don't. But it's probably the dish I have made most in my life due to popular familial demand. So right now I am working on finding another signature dish to topple it from 1st place. In the running: Fabada (a Spanish bean stew, also known as Fabada Asturiana).

Question added by Zarah: On average, how many times a week would you cook something to satisfy your sweet tooth?
Probably once a week.

Question added by Cathy: What do you usually eat for breakfast?
Aaah, the answer to that is the reason my blog is called 80 Breakfasts. Breakfast is my favorite meal and I love having a different breakfast everyday. Hence the name 80 Breakfasts. So there isn't actually anything I "usually" eat for breakfast, because it changes everyday. Part of this blog is my breakfast chronicles (well, I am just at breakfast # 1...but give me time, I'm new!), so stay tuned!

Question added by Alice: What are your stand-by dinner options when you don't have the time or the inclination to follow or create a new recipe?
Yogurt with honey and granola OR cereal with chocolate muesli. Like I said, breakfast is my favorite meal and I sometimes find myself trying to have breakfast for lunch and dinner!

Question added by Karen: What would you like to cook someday that you haven't tried before?
Foie Gras and Chocolate Souffle. Adobo -- some (ok, fine, most) consider it the national dish of my country, but I have never cooked it, only eaten it (countless times). A roast pig...outdoors. A really BIG cake.

I think everyone has already been tagged for this meme...sorry, don't know who else to tag!

Update (jul22) - I tag Midge of Sybaritic Diversions for this meme!

Brussel Sprouts, I found you!

Oh my little darlings! Finally we are together!

Yes. I love brussel sprouts. They are one of my favorite veggies...right up there with broccoli, asparagus, eggplant (aubergine), and spinach. They taste similar to cabbage...some say a little milder, while others say more intense in flavor, but to me they just plain taste better. They are also more densely packed. I'd much rather have these babies than cabbage any day. Unfortunately, I hardly ever come across them here. That's why I grabbed the little ones as soon as I laid eyes on them...cost be damned. I wonder if there are any local farmers who cultivate them here...

Another reason I love them is their unapologetic cuteness. How can you not be taken in by these little green mini-me "cabbagettes"? And who really in the veggie family can claim to be "cute" (ok, fine, barring all other mini-me veggies)?

To prepare, I just steamed them and then tossed them in a little butter and salt. Yum! I was reluctant to share my stash but, to my surprise (!), no one in my family fought me for the delicious sprouts. Have they lost their minds?! Oh well, there's no accounting for taste I suppose...and more for me in the end!

Breakfast # 1: Fig & Gorgonzola Tartine

My first breakfast post! More to come I assure you. This is proof of how susceptible I am to the little "serving suggestion" pictures. I was wandering about Santi's Deli and I spotted a package of gorgonzola cheese with a picture of the gorgonzola spread on a slice of country bread and some fresh figs on the side. "Mmmmm! How nice that looks and I want to eat that right now!", I thought to myself. No fresh figs to be found but there was a package of dried figs in Santi's with the promise of being soft and moist written all over it, so I snapped them up. The figs did turn out to be soft and moist, and with the gorgonzola, an absolute winner. I think the flavors -- the stinky-cheesiness of the gorgonzola plus the sweet-stickiness of the figs (and the tiny chruch of its seeds) -- went together perfectly.

This made me think of another fruit/cheese duo that I get along with famously: Mango jam and Gruyere. My dad makes his own mango jam which I pair with the Gruyere I got from, well, Gruyere (adorable little Swiss town and home to the H.R. Giger Museum -- nice juxtaposition, no?). I am jealously hoarding it as it grows more and more ornery in smell.

Aaah, breakfast! The possibilities are endless...

Domestic Goddess Cupcakes

I have always wanted to make cupcakes that looked the ones on the cover of Nigella Lawson's book How to Be a Domestic Goddess. Although I do want to buy (and I will eventually!) the book, I scrounged around the net to see if I could find a recipe that would yield the same domestic-goddess-stepford-looking perfect cupcakes. And find it I did! On The Amateur Gourmet I found a recipe for Bizarro Burnt Butter Brown Sugar Cupcakes that seemed to fit the bill...especially since it was indeed taken from the Goddess Herself.

It was quite a trip to actually "burn" the butter. It got alarmingly dark but it was supposed to so I didn't panic. The cupcakes came out gorgeous! So cute like you wanted to take their picture and send it to your grandma. So I did. Take their picture that is...have yet to show Grannie. We had a lovely photo session with them posing and preening for the camera, not unlike Paris Hilton (or myself). I got their fab accessories (little flowers on top) from Cook's Exchange at the Power Plant Mall. You can buy a bunch of these sugar flowers for a reasonable price, although they come in different sizes and colors per pack, and I only wanted smallish ones for the cupcakes, but hey, if I'm not patient or enterprising enough to make my own sugar flowers then I shouldn't complain.

I initially wanted to bake these solely because (oh the shame) they were cute. But they are in fact quite yum-yum-yummy! The burnt-butter-action really does something for the flavor...making it all nutty-butter-delish, a flavor that is also reflected in the icing (where you use burnt butter as well). It's quite moist although my brother found the icing a tad too sweet...I, meanwhile, did not.

These would be perfect for a tea party or baby shower, preferably accompanied by a pink or lilac twin set, kitten heels, and a strand of pearls.