November 26, 2005

thanksgiving day

Thanksgiving at my in-laws' place is always a memorable event. Getting together with family is the highlight of this very special holiday and it's what makes Thanksgiving such a happy ocassion. Ham and smoked turkey were the main courses this year. I forgot to take a picture of the whole turkey before it was carved though. We all agreed that smoked turkey is much better and much more flavorful. Never had turkey before I came here in the US but I've learned to adapt and appreciate the significance of it during this very important American holiday.
One of the side dishes is dressing. My mom-in-law made this a day ahead from homemade cornbread that she set aside and left to dry out to become "stale" on the kitchen counter. A very traditional Thanksgiving baked dish that goes very well with the turkey. Cornbread was crumbled and combined with sauteed chopped onions, celery and eggs. My mom-in-law added that chicken or turkey broth plus lots of rubbed sage are key ingredients that give this dish it's flavor. Another side dish that has become one of my favorites is this vegetable relish which has
green peas, chopped red and green bell peppers, green beans and corn. The sweet and sour mix of flavors provided a good balance to the rich holiday food. A very good make ahead side dish. Squash casserole is my sister-in-law's
specialty which she makes every year. She used yellow squash and sprinkled cheddar cheese on top. Another hit on the Thanksgiving table, this is a most requested side dish and has become a family favorite. Back home now but still reminiscing about the memorable visit and looking forward to the coming holiday season.

November 18, 2005

thanksgiving bread

We’re off to spend Thanksgiving with my in-laws in their quiant hometown in Tennessee where my husband grew up. I’m bringing a few loaves of this challah bread to give to my husband’s family there. I wrapped them in some cellophane I found at the dollar store, with a thanksgiving design and tied them with some raffia. All they need now are the gift tags. They always enjoy this bread, (which I learned from my aunt in Chicago and which I’ve talked about in an earlier post) very appropriate and good for french toast. It’s the season for food, glorious food, once again. Our seven-hour drive is always worth it. It’s always fun and memorable to spend quality time with the family. I’m lucky to have family here in the US. My aunt, who’s also in Tennessee, often invites us for special ocassions and holidays. Although I’m oceans away from my immediate family in Manila, I’m still thankful that the distance doesn’t lessen the closeness and caring we have for one another. Having a family is a special blessing, a gift I’ll always be thankful for. Be back in a week, hopefully with more holiday food and travel photos from the trip, in the meantime, HAPPY THANKSGIVING to all!

backyard harvest

The peak of summer usually brings a bountiful harvest from our backyard. These calamansi, lemongrass stalks, jalapenos and kaffir lime leaves, main ingredients in thai cooking, I’m happy and proud to say were all harvested right from our backyard. Grown in pots, the calamansi and jalapeno plants are both doing well and thriving for three years now. When the temperature drops to below 20 degrees or near freezing, they need to be taken indoors, otherwise, it's okay to leave them outdoors. It’s very handy to have ingredients like these fresh and readily available for picking. I use the calamansi a lot, most of the time in marinades and for flavoring. In the summertime, they produce so much fruit that I don't even have to buy lemons or limes from the grocery.

The cross section photo (above) shows how juicy they are. They have a fresh citrusy aroma when sliced. Called "calamondine" here in the US, you can sometimes find them in garden section of these big store chains. They're easy to grow and they love the sun. Good amount of watering is crucial so they don't dry out or the fruits will not get as juicy and plump. Calamansi is a popular citrus variety in Manila, the yellow lemons which are common here don't grow there and may only be available in the produce sections of bigger supermarkets but not in the palengke or open markets. Although quite a common variety, calamansi can be seasonal too. They're cheap in the summer but can get very pricey, "parang ginto" or precious as gold as we say, around Christmastime. I remember my mother, would buy them in bulk in the summer when they're cheap and she would preserve them as a syrup, which she referred to as "calamansi nip" and has the same consistency as karo syrup. It can then be used to make calamansi juice drink by mixing a few parts of the syrup with water and ice cubes. This same concoction, I happened to see it sold online, is available in clear plastic containers, marketed and exported by a local company.

November 15, 2005

comforting soups

There are days when it’s difficult to decide what to fix for dinner. It can be quite a challenge at times. These are days that call for dishes that are refreshing and comforting at the same time.This is when tortilla soup comes to the rescue! The tart lime juice in it readjusts and cleanses the palate. The avocado adds richness which goes well with all the other ingredients, a very good balance. We had a very satisfying lunch at a tex-mex restaurant once and this was where I got the idea for the sliced avocados for the soup. Unfortunately the restaurant is now closed but I’m positive it wasn’t because of the food because everything we had there was great. Several of the branches of this family-owned restaurant are all in New Mexico. So branching out further must not have been a successful move for them.

I guess chicken soup is a universal comfort food. In Manila, a very flavorful and popular creamy kind is called “sopas” or chicken macaroni soup. Evaporated milk, instead of fresh milk is commonly used. Evaporated milk is a staple and we use it for everything, leche flan, champorado, etc. Fresh milk is always available but there are times when it just can’t be a substitute for the consistency and rich color of evaporated milk. Sopas is always a hit especially with kids. We grew up eating it and the next generation is now enjoying it.

Sinigang or sour soup with tamarind as the tart ingredient, is another popular soup in Manila. After having greasy and rich foods like during and after big holidays like Christmas and New Year, this is quite a welcome dish with plain white rice. With bangus ( milkfish ) or prawns ( I have an earlier post for this ) it's definitely healthier and lighter. In whatever form, soups are just the ultimate comfort food.

fruit creations

Travelling back home from Vegas this summer, my aunt and I were browsing the airline’s inflight magazine and found this great idea for a fruit instead of a floral centerpiece. Actually it was an ad for a company specializing in this kind of fruit arrangements. Just like cookie bouquet greetings, somebody had a very creative idea with fruits targeting the more health conscious clientele. Since my aunt was having some friends over for dinner a few days after we got back, we thought this wasn't just a lovely idea but quite unique. The guests were impressed with the food presentations. We had an international theme that night, these fruit pastries we made were also a hit. Very simple to make with just store-bought mini pastry cups ready to be filled with your favorite custards and fruit. Mini fruit or pecan pies are also very easy to make with these ready crusts. We topped our fruit tarts with whipped cream.

We were actually looking for chocolate cups but had no luck finding them. We got the idea from the dessert buffet at the Monte Carlo hotel where we stayed. The chocolate cups I guess are not readily available in the market as these pastry cups. But the chocolate cups sure looks good too. It showcases the colorful fruit. The fruit projects were fun to make.

November 3, 2005

caprese sandwich

My favorite order at a good Italian restaurant near our place, which is easy to make at home. Fresh mozarella, fresh basil leaves direct from our potted herb collection, and fresh tomatoes are the three key ingredients to this simple fare. We're quite fortunate to be in a very diverse area with a variety of food shops and restaurants serving international cuisine. A special treat for us is visiting our favorite wine and cheese shop. They have a variety of interesting cheeses from all over the world and we're quite pleased with everything we've tried and bought so far. The quality of their cheeses as well as their wine assortment is excellent. I must say I have a preference for hard cheeses like Manchego and aged gouda. Back in Manila, I was used to the "queso de bola" which we usually buy for Christmas and New Year. It's actually an aged gouda which is very popular during the holiday season. I guess I'm always willing to try new cheese varieties as long as they're not too stinky or "moldy" ( I mean with the veins ) but I don't have a problem trying out blue cheese, it depends on how strong it is, some are mild anyway. I usually make this sandwich or caprese salad version if we get some fresh mozarella from the cheese shop. Sprinkled with olive oil, a little salt and pepper, it's a very light but satisfying vegetarian treat.

November 1, 2005

pan de sal, etc.

Hot pan de sal business had seen its better days. There was a time when it was a booming business in Manila and there were bakeries selling hot pan sal everywhere. An uncle from Canada gave us this recipe. It has been the same basic recipe I follow for making ensaymada, cinnamon rolls and dinner rolls ( shown below ). The proportion of liquid and dry ingredients just needs to be adjusted especially when making ensaymada, which is supposed to be a richer "brioche" type of dough. Milk instead of water results in a softer texture and more eggs for a richer dough. Fresh from the oven pan de sal are the best. In Manila, it's still the most popular breakfast bread. Pan de sal delivery is one of the early morning activities along with shouts of "taho" ( very soft and warm breakfast tofu meal eaten with tapioca & brown sugar syrup, always a hit with kids ) the familiar honking sound of the pan de sal delivery guy in a bicycle fills the air. Kids, men and women wait along the gates of their homes for their turns to buy. Thanks to the ever reliable bread machine, it does an amazing job kneading bread dough, pan de sal can now be baked anytime.

These dinner rolls use the same basic pan de sal recipe but with milk instead of water, resulting in a very light, soft and delicate dough texture. Brushed with beaten egg before baking (above).