Wednesday, September 17, 2008

seafood risotto

The perfect risotto was on top of our list of dishes we wanted to learn in Florence. So on the very first day, we were already shown the secrets of the perfect, authentic, Italian, cooked by a cute Italian chef risotto. Yes, the cute Italian chef was an unexpected but very welcome bonus. (Sex and the City moment in another post)

We learned several "secrets" actually. First being, your risotto is as good as the stock you use. The restaurant's seafood stock was a cauldron that approximated a witch's. It had swimming in it flora (celery, white onion, leeks) and fauna (fish
and seafood heads, tails, trimmings). They don't put anything that will dominate the delicate balance of flavors- hence, no garlic, no salmon, etc... Once again, it was about the perfect balance and complementing natural flavors.

Second secret- Saute the rice in butter until it is translucent, releasing the starch, before adding the wine and the broth. They introduced us to Carnaroli, which according to Chef Cutie is better than the more familiar Arborio. And if Chef Cutie says so, then we believe! Doing this takes longer than what I was used to before. I guess I was afraid of burning the rice but this step does make a creamier risotto.

Third secret- You don't have to watch the risotto as much as we were lead to believe. We actually cooked several other dishes while the risotto was on the stove so we did pretty much leave it on its own for at least 5 minute intervals. Just make sure to stir and add more broth to prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Fourth- Take the pot off the stove before you think the rice is done. Following the al dente school of thought, we don't want to end up with lugaw. Sayang naman ang canaroli. Then add a chunk of butter, cover and let rest. If just before serving, your risotto stands or hold its shape, add more broth. I think this was a wonderful restaurant secret/lesson we learned not just for the risotto. Stop cooking before something
is truly done. That way you can "heat" it or finish cooking just before serving without overcooking a dish.

So there, four valuable lessons and Cute Italian Chef in just one lesson. Sulit di ba? In the post-Florence world, there may be no cute Italian Chef, but the lessons he shared go a long, long way.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

chicken asparagus involtino

Involtino is a rolled up piece of meat with stuffing inside, usually cheese and/or vegetable. Again, it is one of those dishes I would normally scoff at as being so last season, overdone and passe. But once again, discovering new combinations of flavors and the importance of freshness and quality brings a tired dish to new life.

Chicken breasts, fresh
asparagus, parma ham, panchetta and pecorino make the base of this amazingly easy to prepare dish. the combination of flavors is so subtle, with no one ingredient overpowering any other. The asparagus serves as a very mild counterpoint to what might otherwise
be a salty and rich roll. After rolling the stuffing in the flattened chicken breast, we tie the roll with a string, dredge it in flour and quickly brown in oil. We bake it in the oven for around 10 minutes just to finish cooking. We also puree a few more asparagus stalks that have been blanched and drizzle this over the cut up rolls.

This, I discovered, makes for an excellent party dish as I can prepare it a day ahead, all the way to browning, stick it in the ref and just bake it the following day. This has also inspired me to try other involtino combinations (we did a salmon involtino in class also). Awakening the senses and teaching it to be more discriminating and sensitive to the subtleties of flavors is a post-Florence lesson worth pursuing. In the post-Florence world, there's no excuse for the ordinary.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Scampi thermidore and melanzane parmigiano

It was my definition of a perfect weekend-- long, lazy and with nothing on the agenda. There was an open bottle of truffles in oil in the ref and a container of slow cooked ragu in the freezer begging to be used. So I gladly obliged and prepared a most decadent prawn thermidore and eggplant parmigiano.

Prawn thermidore has never been on my list of favorite dishes. To me it seemed so 80's and a total waste of good prawns. Most probably because the thermidores I've encountered were those butter-laden bechamel creations from cheap but pretentious caterers. UNTIL I met thermidore with truffle sauce. Now that's bringing the pretentious bit a big notch.

First I had the make sure I had hefty, big and plump prawns. Heck I was cooking for just the three of us, so why not go all the way? The prawns were butterflied and cleaned. Then it's popped into the oven for 5-8 minutes, just to dehydrate a bit. Now for THE bechamel- made with butter, flour, milk, an egg, a shot of cognac, Parmesan cheese and drizzled with a generous amount of truffle oil. A whiff of the truffle oil takes it to a different and sublime level. I lovingly ladled the bechamel onto the prawns, sprinkled some more parmesan, and for an extra shot of love, topped the prawn with a precious sliver of truffle. The prawns then went back into the oven for some bonding with the bechamel. What came out was an all out declaration of love. It was analogous to loving with all your heart and not holding anything back.

The Omnivore’s Hundred

Here's a list I came across at I was just wondering to myself if there was any kind of food that I wish I could try that I still haven't. Went through my mental list that included foie gras, caviar, truffles, etc and couldn't really think of anything. This list brings to fore some other stuff I haven't even heard nor thought of. My score's pretty decent. What's yours?


Here’s a chance for a little interactivity for all the bloggers out there. Below is a list of 100 things that I think every good omnivore should have tried at least once in their life. The list includes fine food, strange food, everyday food and even some pretty bad food - but a good omnivore should really try it all. Don’t worry if you haven’t, mind you; neither have I, though I’ll be sure to work on it. Don’t worry if you don’t recognise everything in the hundred, either; Wikipedia has the answers.

Here’s what I want you to do:

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Optional extra: Post a comment here at linking to your results.

The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred:

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

trekking in wawa dam

This was a school field trip unlike any we've taken before. It was hot, humid, wet, muddy and a whole lot of fun. It was nice to see the girls (and the other moms) outside their usual habitat. It was good to see them walking on a muddy trail, crossing the monkey bridge, getting sweaty and dirty. It was amusing to see them outside their air conditioned, concrete and carefully controlled worlds. There were still some ubiquitous bodyguards in back up cars but they didn't seem inclined to do the trek themselves and
pretty much let the little princesses cope on their own. There was a lot of complaining and whining, but they didn't look any worse
for the wear. In fact, they did look like they enjoyed themselves.
I'm not really sure what kind of lessons they will draw from the experience but I'm just glad they saw and felt a bit of what the outside world looks like.

In the post-Florence world, every new experience counts and playing Mommy to Yso is still the best way to spend the day, no matter how hot and humid...

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The post Florence world

Like an opium high, the fall is hard.
What could've, didn't. What if's don't count.
What happened was uplifting, not depressing.
There isn't one major decision. It's a series of little choices.
In the post-florence world, home is still Mandaluyong.


Disappointment comes from a lot of different sources. If serendipity is an unexpected source of happiness, what do you call an unexpected source of sadness?
Meanness cannot be undone, cannot be taken back.

panna cotta

Panna cotta

This was one of my favorite desserts learned from the cooking class. It's something I've always wanted to learn how to do as it presented me with limitless options for flavoring and topping. My only apprehension was finding the gelatin sheets here in Manila as it's not something I was familiar with. I've only worked with the powdered and the "gulaman" blocks. So when I was in Santi's buying meat for the fileto balsamico and I saw them sheets, I immediately decided to get the cream and take a spin at doing my own panna cotta.

My ingredients were 2 one liter packs of cream, 1 liter milk, 230 g of sugar (which I googled and found to be roughly one and a third cups)
and 25 g gelatin sheets and peel of one lemon and one orange.

I boiled the milk, cream and sugar with the lemon and orange peel. While that was cooking, I soaked the gelatin sheets in tap water. Aft
er heating the milk and cream mix, I added the softened gelatin sheets in the mixture. THIS was where I think my mistake lay. The gelatin sheets didn't just soften, I think a large part of it dissolved in the water. So I don't think I put in 25 g worth. The water I soaked it in was kind'a thick already by the time I retrieved the sheets. But I put the mixture into little serving dishes , hoped and prayed and let them cool and put them in the ref to set.

I left them in the ref overnight and found cream soup the morning after. Saaad. Carmen (my trusty sidekick) thought of re-boiling the crea
m mix and adding some more gelatin. We didn't soak the sheets anymore but just dunked them in the water to soften before adding it to the cream mixture. We also didn't do individual servings anymore as it was taking too much space in the ref. We just let them set in bigger plastic containers.

Well, the panna cotta was rescued. In class,Chef made a strawberry puree and I was thinking of doing mango. Ysobel declared them a success and didn't even want to put any sort of topping on it.We scooped them into chilled martini glasses and reprised the orange flavoring by putting orange wedges on the side. We served them to guests who came for a dessert one evening. It was perfect because it was light and refreshing and something you won't have to worry about going to sleep with.

In the post-Florence world, humidity is a factor. Failure is a possibility but rescue is an option. :-)

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

my heels are made for walking

Averaging seven kilometers a day on foot in Paris kept the weight and alcohol consumption in check. This also allowed for a lot of serendipitous moments as otherwise unseen nooks and crannies were discovered. Of course, tree lined streets and wonderful architecture made the walk a lot more pleasant and interesting. In the post Florence world, I decided to give walking another run (mwahahaha).

Ok, so the streets of Makati are not exactly tree lined but there were some trees along the way, too. The architecture is not quite as interesting and the sun was just too hot! I also had to dodge motorists who don't quite get that pedestrians get right of way especially where there are perpendicular lines on the road. No, it wasn't a pleasant walk, any way I look at it. I arrived at my destinations hot, sweaty and smelling of l'eau d'enfume. But I'm willing to give it a chance. I resolve to walk more, thinking that at least it will reduce my carbon footprints. It should also burn the same amount of calories. And yes, my heels should be made for walking.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

magic hour

Going down Makati-Mandaluyong bridge around 645PM last night, I caught a glimpse of the magic hour sky. It was that melancholy blue with streaks of magenta peeping through. The lamps on the riverbank were turned on and for a few seconds there, I had a fleeting Florence feeling. Magic hour is my favorite time of day. It always gives me pause depending on the kind of day I've had. It has on occasion driven me to tears and this time, it was very comforting. Yes, there are pesky electric cables, Pasig is not quite Arno, and squatters do live by the river. No, Mandaluyong is not Florence, but magic hour can still be magical... even in Mandaluyong.

fileto with aceite balsamico

A perfectly cooked slice of tenderloin steak, brown on the outside and a rosy pink inside.
Purist beef lovers may scoff at the idea of putting so much "sauce" on a perfectly good cut of meat. But this is the kind best eaten on a mound of warm fluffy rice, or with crunchy, hollow bread to mop up the sauce around it.

Start by dusting the tenderloin pieces with some flour. Place in a pan with hot olive oil. Season with salt on the side that's on top. Cook for five minutes, flip and season the other side. After another five minutes, splash in some aceite balsamico (gasp!) and worcestershire sauce (an even louder gasp!). Just before serving, add a dollop of cream to the sauce.

This piece of Florence was rather well received back home. There was a bit of grumbling over the not-so-tender-loin (I used local meat) but I think it may have also been because the cuts were not as thick as what we had in Florence so it was a little overcooked. It being the debut dish, it was also not a big surprise considering it tasted a little "familiar". It had an uncanny resemblance to our local bistek (with balsamic vinegar instead of kalamansi though) and could have been a cross between salpicao and beef stroganoff.

In the post-Florence world, this dish would be a keeper. It can move towards comfort food category, best enjoyed with steaming rice, a full bodied red wine and a refreshing dessert.

post florence world

After a month long culinary trip which was an exercise in pleasing and educating the gustatory sense, this blog will attempt to recreate the sensations and tastes sampled, best of all in Firenze.

Results will not be altered. Hopefully, Firenze (and Paris, and Nice, and Rome, and Portugal) will be a moveable feast.