Gifts from New York City

This is a much belated post about the wonderful treasures my mother brought back for me from her trip to New York. When my mom goes on her yearly sojourn to New York (yes, even mothers need vacations...especially mothers...especially MY mother) there are only two things I ask her to bring back: a box of chocolate truffles from La Maison du Chocolat and a bottle of Brunette from Le Pain Quotidien.

I first tried Maison truffles when I was in Amsterdam and my cousin had just come from Paris with the beautiful brown box (doesn't it look like leather?) in tow. It was love at first bite. We hoarded it greedily and savored each and every piece. When C came to visit we decided to spend a weekend in Paris and on the first morning, in a surprising stroke of serendipity, we stumbled upon one of their boutiques. Was that a breakfast to remember! Hot chocolate, pain au chocolat, and some truffles on the side for good measure. Criminal, I know, but I was in heaven! I bought two boxes of truffles for "take-away" and have been a convert ever since. These truffles are divine and, to me at least, well worth the hefty price tag and any sort of trouble I go through to procure them.

Brunette is a scrumptious hazelnut praline spread which is like Nutella without the chocolate, or peanut butter but with hazelnuts, or simply a little bit of spreadable nirvana. For kids from one to 101! Isn't that great? That covers us all don't you think? I have had it on bread, on cake, on a spoon, and even on Krispy Kremes (yikes!). Sweet hazelnut spreads smooth, with just the tiniest bit of graininess so you know there are real hazelnuts in there. It is so rich that a little film of oil collects at the top if you leave it standing for a while...unlike the dry peanut butters I cannot abide by. Or am I just a sucker for all things calorific?

(note to self: would be great for those Donna Hay cupcakes...)

Le Pain Quotidien originated in Belgium and, as the names connotes, started with its traditional bread, then expanded to include other goodies. It's a great place to have breakfast, on their long communal, refectory-like tables. Order a basket of fresh bread and a cup of coffee and you have your pick of their delightful spreads and preserves in opened bottles, scattered on the table, with spoons already tucked invitingly inside.

Not pictured here, but just as appreciated, were: a microplane zester (yey!), French sea salt, The Arab Table by May Bsisu (it's on the sidebar), a food mill, OXO non-stick flexible turners in rainbow colors, and a collection of spice mixes.

Thanks Mom! :)

Breakfast # 8: Pancakes!

Soft griddle-fried "cakes", crispy on the edges, and drenched in syrup. A breakfast classic (please see note below). That's what pancakes are to me and I love them. Whatever version or incarnation, I enjoy these guys: thick, spongy American style flapjacks; light, thin crepes with a myriad of possible fillings; dutch pancakes; little silver dollars; Breton galettes; banana pancakes from name it.

I do, however, have a wee bit of trouble making them myself. They just refuse to turn out! Fortunately, the food blog universe has conspired to send me a number of pancake recipes to try. The first batch I tried out came from Nicky of the wonderful and gorgeous blog Delicious Days. You can find the recipe here. It's for Raspberry Pecan Pancakes, but I left out the raspberries and the pecans because I didn't have them, and I also wanted to try it at its basic minimal form.

The pancakes had a good combo of chewy-ness and sponge, with just a fairy touch of sweetness from the vanilla sugar (I love this ingrdient!), but not too much as the lusciousness of it all comes out when you drench these babies in their sticky-sweet coating. I used a mixture of maple syrup and my favorite stroop, after slathering on some butter.

I do seem to have a heavy mixing hand (I try to be light and graceful, but Audrey Hepburn I am not) so these possibly should have been lighter than what I turned out. Nicky (or anyone)...suggestions to this effect (or any other effect) are welcome!

Like I said, I discovered a lot of pancake recipes in food-blog-landia. So I may do a "series-within-a-series" and post all my trials and triumphs of the pancake kind here on this blog...hmmm...definitely an idea worth toying with. A pancake-marathon. Pancake-a-palooza.

Thanks Nicky for the great recipe! Will try them with pecans next time...raspberries are more of a "now-you-see-them-now-you-don't" kind of fruit here as they are imported from Australia and you can never guess when they will suddenly make an appearance.

Note: Pancakes, or some form of them, are eaten all over the world. But not all are eaten at breakfast. Please read here for more information on the wonderful world of pancakes. I love cultural's what makes all of us so interesting to each other...and in this case, it gives me an excuse to eat pancakes at every meal (plus dessert)!

Lasang Pinoy 4: Munggo Guisado

It's Lasang Pinoy time once again and this month's theme is Pinoy Soul Food! This LP is hosted by Minnette over at Lafang List.

There are a number of Filipino dishes that soothe me but when I found out about this month's theme I knew that, when it comes to putting a smile on my soul, there can be only one: Munggo.

Munggo (mung bean) Guisado is (considered by many) a humble bean stew. I have had it since I was a child, and have loved it for just as long. It nourishes and comforts, and always leaves a warm glow somewhere deep down in the sub-cockles of my heart. It is eaten far and wide, by Filipinos from all walks of life. Everytime I take a spoonful I feel I am part of millions of people, taking millions of spoonfuls. Soul and solidarity...all for a bargain price of a small sack of beans.

Munggo Guisado

- 240 grams munggo
- 4 cups of water
- 4 – 5 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 small (native…well, to here at least) tomatoes, chopped
- 200 grams (approximately, I used ½ of the fish) boneless tinapang (smoked) bangus (milkfish), broken into pieces
- 1 cup malunggay (moringa) leaves
- canola oil
- salt / patis (fish sauce)

Here’s what you do:

- Clean the munggo by dunking the beans in a bowl of tap water and skimming off the “floaters”.
- Place munggo in a pot with the 4 cups of water and cook on low heat until soft (around an hour, more or less).
- Once beans are done, start with your guisa (sauté).
- Heat some oil in a large pan (large enough to fit all your cooked and softened munggo).
- Sauté garlic, onions, and tomatoes until slightly soft.
- Add tinapang bangus, toss, and heat through.
- Add cooked munggo and stir.
- After you have given it a moment for the flavors to blend, add salt or patis to taste.
- Add malunggay leaves, give it a few stirs (they’ll cook fast), and you’re done.

Ever notice how, all around the world, some form of "humble bean stew" is considered soul food? We must have more in common that we think. I guess everyone needs a culinary cuddle sometimes, and this does it for me :)

White Out

The universal question: Chocolate or Vanilla? I am, and have always been, a chocolate girl. When I read a dessert menu, more often than not, my eyes will immediately zero in on the chocolate items. I love chocolate (now there's an oft repeated statement) and will go to great lengths to get the chocolate I want. Chocolate for me draws pictures of things both sweet and sinful, dark never-ending passions, decadence, bliss.

That being said, there are certain times when some rogue vanilla-craving sneaks up behind me, when things get a little to "noisy" and I seek solace in the simplicity of of the unadorned. Times when I yearn for something pure and white, like a crisp cotton shirt. When I long for sophistication instead of flamboyance, in a place where I lounge, cool as a cucumber, on Scandinavian furniture while sipping artesian water from Fiji. Yes, my escape to vanilla-land.

I was having one of those days, and I despeartely needed something, well, white, to soothe my soul and calm my nerves. Something I could conjure simply to see something a clean slate on which I could regroup and refocus. Is that strange? White first, taste later. An affront to the true purpose of food? I was in a strange mood I suppose...

Anyhoo, I rooted around the cookbooks and this is what I came up with. For the cake, I decided to make a pretty basic yellow cake from our battered, handed-down, copy of Betty Crocker's Picture Cookbook. I had to adjust the recipe a bit as I didn't have any shortening, so I used butter, which made for amazing flavor. For the icing, I used the icing for Nigella's Burnt-Butter Brown Sugar Cupcakes, except I didn't "burn" the butter, in order to keep the icing pure white. I also had to adjust the measurements because I didn't have enough sugar on hand (so I apologize for the seemingly random and uneven quantities!). No tragedy...I still had icing leftover.

Here's the recipe:

Rich Golden Cake
(adapted somewhat from Betty Crocker's Picture Cookbook)

- 1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
- 1 cup white sugar
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup butter, softened
- 2/3 cup milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 2 eggs

Here's what you do:
- Preheat the oven to 350F.
- Sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.
- Add the butter, milk and vanilla, and beat for 2 minutes.
- Add the eggs, and beat for another 2 minutes.
- Pour into a greased and floured cake tin (I used a 9 inch one for this recipe. Although that wasn't what it originally called for, it worked just fine. I also lined the bottom of the pan with parchment paper) and bake for 30 - 35 minutes (or until done, when the handy toothpick thrust into the center of the cake comes out clean).

Icing for Burnt-Butter Brown Sugar Cupcakes
(adapted from Nigella Lawson's How to Be a Domestic Goddess)

- 84 grams butter, softened
- 140 grams icing/confectioner's sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 - 2 tablespoons milk

Here's what you do:
- Beat butter with around half the sugar, just to make it stiff.
- Add milk and remaining sugar alternately until you reach a nice consistency.
- Add vanilla.

After the cake has cooled of completely, spread icing all over the cake to cover. It would have been nice if I had a straight edge spatula to clean up my white-out cake's look...unfortunately we had to make do with the rustic, smear-y look.

I had started out just wanting to calm some jumpy nerves with the joy of beholding a nice, plain, white cake, but the boon was that it actually came out delicious! This is no light and fluffy cake though. It is dense and rich and moist. And although it looks quite benign, sitting there in all it's white innocence, it is actually quite intense. The vanilla in the cake and icing, paired with the butter-y-ness of the cake, comforted even a solid chocolate lover like me. Sigh...

Sunday lunch with Marketman

Seems like it was only yesterday that I discovered Market Manila, through an article in one of our local dailies. The brainchild of the mysterious Marketman, it features everything Filipino-foodie-related: from ingredients and their origins, to wonderful markets to visit, to scrumptious recipes to try. Marketman's was the first food weblog I stumbled across and was responsible for getting me all fired up about food blogs (and probably a part of the reason I got the nerve to start 80 Breakfasts -- coincidence: his was the very first comment this blog recieved!).

Now, many blog comments later, the first Market Manila Eyeball is organized. Honestly, I had no idea what to expect...but I was not missing it. That was for sure! :)

It was held in Galileo Enoteca, a cozy Italian wine shop (with other things on offer like Italian cold cuts and cheeses, and Italian specialty food items...I am returning for more goodies, that much is certain!) in Mandaluyong.

The EB turned out to be a fun and fantastic occasion. Marketman's fans turned out in energetic force. Total strangers with hands reaching across plates and wineglasses, "Hi there! I'm ____!". Emphatic comments like: "Mmmm! This is sooo good!", or "Try this one, it's delicious!". Plate after plate of amazingly mouth watering appetizers were placed on the table (with accompanying wine of course), after which three wonderful pasta dishes were brought out (despite all the antipasti I consumed I was still ready, able and willing to have all three pastas!). An excellent cup of espresso to top everything off. And for dessert...Marketman's special gift for each of us: made-from-scratch ensaymadas, the lastest batch from his intense ensaymada recipe testing series.

Aside from finally meeting the great Marketman in person (and Mrs. Marketman too!), it was an opportunity to meet fellow food-lovers, as well as other bloggers whose blogs I regularly visit (and some who visit here as well!). I'm so glad have gotten the chance to meet all of you!

Let me say this, if success is measured in contented sighs from excellent food and wine, great conversations, and uproarious laughter, then this event was definitely a success! Good food, good energy, and a goody bag to boot, made for a very satiated Sunday for me. Thanks Marketman! I had a ball! :)

For a more complete round up, please see Marketman's EB post. For another MM EB post, also check out Lori's (with amazing food shots as per usual!).

Khabli Palau (Lamb with Apricots)

Truth be told, C wasn’t the only guy who proposed. There was this one fellow in Egypt, the proprietor of the gift shop on our cruise boat, who did too. Of course, this was all in jest. But I must say that I took advantage of the situation and managed to convince him to get down in Luxor and procure an Egyptian cookbook for me. He feigned shock and said that I would never have to cook if I married him, but went and found the book anyway.

You can imagine my excitement to bust it open and try some of the recipes! It’s a relatively simple cookbook from the Bonechi publishing group. Looking through it I spotted a promising sounding Lamb with Apricots dish, Khabli Palau. I like lamb, I had the dried apricots it called for on hand, and it incorporated rice (Yahoo!) in the dish so...done deal!

Here’s the recipe (with some tweaking and omissions due to a lack in the family cupboards):

Khabli Palau, Lamb with Apricots
(adapted from Egyptian Cooking by Bonechi)

- 600 grams lean lamb (I used a bit more), in bite sized chunks
- 100 grams dried apricots (the recipe called for more but at 100 grams it looked to be enough to me)
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 tablespoon raisins
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon (the recipe called for nutmeg as well…but sadly, I had none on hand)
- Saffron, a generous pinch or so
- 50 grams butter
- 1 small pieces of ginger smashed (the recipe did not call for this but I thought the taste would be a nice addition and add a little contrast to the sweet elements)
- salt and pepper

Here’s what you do:

- Sprinkle the pieces of lamb with the cinnamon, nutmeg, saffron, salt, and pepper.
- Sautee the chopped onions and ginger in the butter. Add the meat.
- Add ½ liter (2 cups) boiling, salted water. Cover and cook on low heat for 30 minutes.
- Add the apricots and raisins, and cook until lamb is tender.
- Grease a baking dish with butter and cover the bottom with cooked rice, pressing well (the recipe had instructions for cooking the rice, but we always have cooked rice lying around here so I just used that).
- Put the meat mixture over the rice and cover with another layer of rice.
- Cover the dish with a sheet of aluminum foil and bake at 160 C/325 F for 30 minutes.

Not bad for my first attempt I would say. I thoroughly enjoyed it, mainly because of the sweetness from the apricots, punctuated perfectly by the cinnamon, and expertly reined in just a tad by the ginger. I also love that the rice was incorporated into the dish instead of being just a “side”. I will definitely be using less rice next time though. Look at the picture! The rice looks like it’s attempting a hostile takeover!

Some notes: The sweetness was just right for me (yes, I am that sort that enjoys a little sweetness in her savories at times); however it was just this side of crossing the sweetness line. Good thing I lessened the apricots! The ginger helped cut the sweetness a bit, which was excellent, but next time I will be chopping it up very finely instead of blithely tossing the smashed chunks in. My brother bit into one of the chunks and he was NOT happy about it.

I'm back...with news!

Hooo boy! Have I been a delinquent blog-person! Poor 80 Breakfasts has suffered from neglect, and how I have missed being able to send my thoughts and foodie adventures out into the world wide web. My techno-bad-luck struck big time and I went through both a laptop AND a desk top crash. Of course, this led to a major work pile-up, of which I took forever getting out from under. But I'm back, things look brighter, and guess what (!!!) ... I'm engaged! :)

Ok, I'll back up a bit. Zamboanga! No, nothing "untoward" happened there to keep me from blogging. In fact, Zamboanga was wonderful and the memories it left me were my bright spot through my days of techno-darkness. It is a beautiful gem situated down south and was a happy discovery for me. The people friendly, the weather great, the seafood amazing, and (the pinnacle of it all) the birthplace of my sweetie, C, and where he decided to pop the question.

My stay was a flurry of sumptuous dinner-dances (it was fiesta time...Hola Zamboanga Hermosa! Woohoo!), gorgeous beach trips, relaxing mountain getaways, and visits with tons of C's relatives and friends (including the doctor who delivered him!). And in the midst of all this, a romatic dinner in a seaside resort (a menu degustation of "frutas del mare de Zamboanga"), a ring hidden in a buko (young coconut), and a new part of my life begins...

So, as can be imagined, I am embarking on that fun yet harrowing journey of..."planning a wedding"...yikes! I'll be back in the kitchen soon but meanwhile here are some pictures of "Zambo" :)

Above is the canon in the Lantakan Hotel, one of the oldests hotels in Zamboanga City. It's right by the sea. I bought some wonderful mats from a Badjao village (built on stilts right on the water) and brightly colored handicrafts weaved by people from Basilan (a neighboring city) from the Yakan village. That heavenly stretch of beach you see is Santa Cruz island, just a short boat ride away from the city.

Above is the sandbar that is connected to Santa Cruz island. It makes for a breathtakingly scenic walk into the sea. I couldn't get enough of the lanzones, which were in season (with a vengeance!) sweet! I must have eaten 500 throughout the trip. Seriously. And, you cannot go to Zamboanga without having curacha, a local crab that is a bit spiny and hairy, a curious mix between a crab and a lobster. The taste is amazing! Ooof! The body is FULL of soft, sweet, succulent meat. Everytime I poked my finger in, more meat just kept sliding out. Heaven in a bright red shell. Next to the curacha picture is the lunch I had on Santa Cruz island. Fresh steamed fish, tomatoes and onions from C's godmother's garden in the mountains, prawns cooked in coconut milk and lots of ginger, and the famous curacha, all served on the firm stem of a banana leaf, and eaten with my hands.

I love the beach (which is why I love living on an archipelago...maximum coastline) and for me there is no pleasure like eating a meal of fresh seafood with your hands, licking the juices of your fingers, while sitting in your bikini under a little hut, the sun shining, your skin sweaty and sticky with sun tan oil, your feet sandy...sigh...and the sea to jump into to cool off. Bliss!

Moving on...above are more yummy treats. There's pancit made by C's godmother, eaten with her homemade chili sauce. Next to it is her chili harvest. Then there's merienda (midday snack) prepared at the house of the doctor who delivered C into this world -- cheese bread, chicalang (a local sweet made with rice good!) , and ginataan (good recipe here). In the last picture you see a big tray of lokot-lokot, another native delicacy. It looks like a rolled up fried vermicelli web. Ok, strange description. It's crunchy with a light sweetness. Suffice to say I couldn't get enough of the food on this trip...

That's all for now...It's so good to be back online! Sometimes life does indeed throw curve balls, but it sure knows how to make up for it :)

PS: Thank god C loves the beach as much as I do! And that's why our wedding will be at one :)