Soul Food from my Childhood

As some of you know, we are opening a small food shop in a city on the southern part of the Philippines.

One of  our special offerings is a snack that me and my cousins grew up with. It is a specialty of  our grandmothers in Ilocos, where both of my parents are from.

It is orange and crispy and full of vegetable goodness.

It is the kind of food that  crackles  and comforts. Something delicious to pick up the mood after a bad day.

My lola loved to eat this with the traditional dark cane vinegar sourced from Ilocos.

We, the younger ones, prefer catsup and a tall glass of coke to round up our meal.

A few months ago, I went home to Ilocos to learn the basic recipe from my cousin, who owns a famous empanada shop in Batac., with the goal to introduce this snack to the south.  After so many recipe tweaks, we have finally made our very own Nanna’s version of  the  beloved and most cherished Ilocos Empanadas! We will be rolling out the products in a few weeks’ time!

We have added our own distinct taste to  the vegetable fillings, adjusted the crispiness of the yummy crust (we love it crisp as chips!)  but still stayed true to the essence, the goodness of our grandmother’s basic recipe, upholding the authenticity of the Philippines’ only rice-papaya-and mongo based empanada.

Though I cannot share the exact recipe for our empanadas, here are some images for you to appreciate the deliciousness of the snack our family have feasted on for generations.

The filling: a mixture of vegetables, an egg and longganisa ( The  Philippines’ garlicky version of frankfurters)

The crust: orangey crispy and super light crust made of ground rice.

Fried to deliciousness.

Crisp and Ready to eat! You may try eating it with Ilocos vinegar or ketchup.  Guaranteed yumm-o!

January 22, 2010 at 12:26 AM Leave a comment

Bean to Cup

I’m back in Davao, land of endless shores,  safe evenings, Durians, and, as I recently discovered, purveyor of first class chocolates.

Yes, the Davao cacao is gaining a following internationally. The US-based chocolatier, Askinosie, has produced a line of Chocolates simply called Davao, using the beans from my beloved hometown.

As luck and serenditipity would have it.  An uncle who lives in a suburb in Davao brokered a sale of a working farm to my father.  And what do you know? The farm is planted with Durian, Banana and Cacao!  So now my mind is running wild on ways to utilize these cacaos. Of course, most of the time, the cacaos from Davao are gathered by cooperatives and are fermented and processed into tableas which are then sold to Askinosie, and to a new client, a Europe-based confectionery group.  But my dream is for us to have a local artisanal bean to bar confectionery shop that will produce  single origin chocolates  using the cacao not only from Davao  but from Bohol, Binondo and other areas in the Philippines producing cacao.

Anyway, I received  a big bag of Davao Chocolate Tableas from the uncle.  My plan is to experiment and use the tableas for brownies and cakes, to see if  we can substitute it for the commercial unsweetened chocolates, but because I’m lazy, tonight I decided to use a pack to make the simplest of all preparations — hot chocolate.

The truth: I am not really a fan of chocolate-ah made from Philippine tablea.  The tableas I’ve used (from Leyte, from Binondo and Antonio Pueo) are rather icky, with  bitter flat flavors and gritty textures.  So there was hesitation on my part. I was prepared to be dissapointed.

This is how I made my  Chocolate-ah:  I added 10 tableas to 5 cups water. Turned up the heat and smooshed the tableas with the wooden spoon and whisked the mixture with my heavy duty metal wire whisk.   (Note: to some die-hard pinoys, it is sacrilege not to use a batirol for chocolate-ah. But, though I have a batirol in Davao, to be honest, I find it easier to use a wooden spoon for the smooshing part, and a metal wire whisk for the mixing and aerating steps).  It takes only 3-5 minutes for the chocolate to be aerated well. At this point things were looking good: 1. the cacao mixture was amazingly smooth and without grits. 2. I tasted the mix. Though it was still bitter, there’s a hint of nuttiness, and a somewhat fruity flavor to the cacao.  Which naturally made me all the more excited so I went ahead and  added my secret cacao ingredients– cinnamon and two other secret spices that I shall not reveal in this post 🙂 . Then I turned the heat to low and mixed in the brown sugar and milk  (to taste).  A minute more of whisking and tada!

Hot Chocolate a la Davao

The chocolate drink was rich, the flavor distinct and amazingly complex! A hint of bitterness, a nutty undertone, and that fruity and aniseed like flavor which I’ve never had before. I paired my mug of hot choco with the Cheesy Chicken Empanadas I baked earlier today for a perfect midnight snack.

And oh I know what I’ll have for breakfast tomorrow: A cup of  Hot Chocolate ala Davao with a couple of  the Banana Crumb Mini-muffins we made yesterday.

Sigh. How magical it is to start and  end the day beautifully and oh-s0 chocolatey 🙂

January 14, 2010 at 1:00 AM 1 comment

Hush-hush due to Holiday Rush

I know I’ve been neglecting this blog.  And it might seem as if I haven’t spent much time in the kitchen during the holidays. Which is exactly the opposite. I’ve been busy in the kitchen the past month– testing out recipes for the shop,  baking for friends, baking food orders and  cooking for our Noche Buena. That plus the Online shop’s  Christmas Sale and the things I had to settle and put into place before I fly off again, well, I had not much time to feel all Christmassy really. I was just glad I was with the family during the holidays.

Anyhow, I took on the challenge to prepare all the goodies for our Noche Buena in Davao.

It was just four of us in Davao–  Dad, the two younger cousins and me since mother and brother decided to spend Christmas in Paranaque since  the brother had to rush some of his thesis stuffs during the holiday.  To be a bit more festive, we decided to have the dinner outdoor in the garden so we can have cool air and the added buzz of the christmas lights from our home and from the neighbors .  Anyway, since I seldom spend Christmas in the Philippines, I wanted to do some heavy duty cooking.  In a way, I wanted to recall how it was when I was still based in Pinas and we’d spend the Christmas as a family. Starting when I was in college, I had taken the task to make our Christmas and New Year’s menu so this was something I was raring to do again.

This was the menu I made for this year’s Noche Buena:

Baby Back Ribs with homemade Barbeque Sauce

Baked Chicken Tetrazinni (my specialty, and the pasta my father loves best!)

Taco Salad

Fried Prawn Wontons

Orange Chiffon Cake with White Chocolate Frosting

Festive Orange Chiffon Cupcakes

Graham Cracker Cake (made by my younger cousin)

Non-alcoholic punch

White Wine

store-bought breadsticks


It was a pretty fun Noche Buena. We slept at past two, we were all laughing recalling stories about our family, with me grilling the two younger cousins who are both still studying about  their plans  for the future.

All of the goodies for this Menu are stuffs I’ve made before so I pretty much prepped the stuffs that had to be prepped.

I made the barbeque sauce two days before and marinated the ribs for a day so the flavor could seep in.

The pasta is the sort I can make with my eyes closed so it was a breeze doing it.

The hard part was the timing. Because I only have 1 oven, I had to pace the cooking so that the food were ready by midnight but were still hot.  The ribs had to be baked for 2 hours, the pasta had to be baked for 45 minutes and the wontons had to be fried perfectly so that they will still be hot and crispy when they are served.  It almost felt like I was running a diner haha! With my two assistants following my bark of commands.

But it felt great and I think we were happy with the results.  Food were great, according to my father. And that’s  all the thanks I need. 🙂

January 8, 2010 at 12:16 AM Leave a comment

Cookie Frenzy

Homemade Big and Chewy Cookies

After a tiring day of  baking 4 cakes, guess what I am gushing about? It’s cookie baking day! What can I say, I think I’ve developed a terrible addiction to baking.

Okay, so this is not really baking for baking’s sake. Haha! Apparently, the samplers of soft-baked cookies that were brought to Father’s office have been well-received and a few of the folks there are apparently itching to order. So what do I do? Well, you know me. I don’t want to give  people what they expect, lol. So in lieu of  packs of soft-baked ginger cookies, I’ve decided on making a Cookie Jar Assortment! Yay!  I’m making two different cookies packed in beautiful, transparent cookie jars (with my label of course).

Can you see how giddy I am with the prospect? 🙂  It also helps that I have a kilo of Callebaut Chippits and a bagful of walnuts just begging to be used.

I don’t like crisp, crumbly cookies. I want chewy cookies, so that’s what I’m making.  Last night, I made the dough for the cookies  ( Cinnamon Molasses and Choco Chip)  and dunked them in the ref. to settle. One thing I’ve learned in cookie making is that, chewy cookies are chewier and the dough is  easier to handle if you allow the dough to develop in the ref for a couple of hours.

After setting aside a few cookies (okay maybe two dozen cookies) for us at home, I was able to make about five jars of cookies.

~Cookie Jars for Christmas~

The recipes for the cookies are loosely based on the following:

Big, Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

Soft Baked Molasses and Cinnamon Cookies

December 15, 2009 at 2:34 PM 1 comment

Chocs + Vanilla + Orange = Happiness

One of my business partners threw an order yesterday for some cakes she’ll bring to her Lola tomorrow.  Pick up time was tonight. Her orders: 2 chiffon cakes and two fudge brownies. With less than 12 hours preparation (from morning to afternoon), it was a bit of a challenge. For one,  though for a time a few years ago, I was making brownies almost every day, I haven’t made brownies in more than a year. My taste for cakes at the moment is geared towards dense pound cakes. As for the chiffon cake, well, I have only made chiffon cakes twice in the past, so this was  certainly going to be a challenge.

Since I did not bring with me cake boxes from Manila, I was a bit worried how to pack the cakes. Thankfully, I found the only baker’s supply shop in Davao: Baker’s Best in Tionko St. Went there early today to buy the boxes. Got a bonus too, since the Callebaut Chipits (chocolate chips) and a few of Callebaut’s semi-sweet bars were on sale!  Got them at only 30% the normal price! The expiration date  of the stuffs on sale was January 2010, but I know that the goodies I’ll make with the chocs won’t even last till Christmas haha so yes, I was very elated! I thought, what a great send-off to a busy baking day.

Because my oven was pretty small,  I had to bake the stuffs in batches. It took me the whole afternoon to bake all four cakes. Sigh. I’m counting the days till I get my hands on the big (well at least bigger than the normal, home ovens) oven.

For, the brownie I used the ever-reliable Baker’s One Bowl Brownie as my base recipe. I  then concocted a white chocolate+whipped cream frosting which I drizzled over the brownies.

For the orange chiffon cake, I based my recipe loosely on  The Joy of Baking recipe with some substitutions.  For the frosting,  I sealed the crumbs thinly with the leftover frosting from the brownies, then made a vanilla + reddi whip + milk frosting for the cake.

Here are the results:

Round Orange Chiffon Cake with Vanilla Frosting

Square Orange Chiffon Cake with Vanilla Frosting

Rustic Brownies

Today’s Mission…Accomplished!

December 11, 2009 at 9:23 PM Leave a comment


It always begins with taste. And taste begins with the eyes—the contrast of colors, the perception of textures, of softness or brittleness, the interplay of form and function. Then the feeling, is the roughness excused? Is its smoothness, its feel to the skin natural? Does it matter to your enjoyment that it is warm, scalding , cold or frozen? Does it matter to your enjoyment that it is warm, scalding, cold or frozen? We taste it most fully, first with our nose, even before our lips part, even before the flavor profile hits our tongues. It’s a miniscule second that separates the scent and the burst of flavors in our mouths, the neurons zapping to and from the brain with a verdict.

It’s the taste that counts, yet taste itself, is as unique as the confluence of all our senses. But that is the challenge. And if you ask me truly, deeply, why I am doing what I’m doing now. And if you have time, then I’ll tell you. It’s the pursuit of that unseen gold medal, to venture into creating something that meets my standard of taste.

Nobody opens a food business, no matter how small, with only money in mind. It is always a need to please. In my little soon to open pie shop, aside from the entrepreneurial part of it (the market research,the demand for the products etc.) I find a chance to indulge in one of my fantasies, one of those passions I carry with me no matter what transpires or where I end up in life, it is this one little chance to create to the best of my skills something that honestly tastes good, or something that’s at par to what for me is good food.

If I had millions of moolah, I’d live like a nomad, and trample all around the world to eat the food that up till now I’ve only devoured in books and blogs. I want to know what tastes good for Alinea’s Grant Achatz, a taste of Napa Valley’s French Laundry, or understand the methods and madness of El Bulli’s Ferran Adria. There are hundreds of chefs that wield such immense devotion, such worship, those who stand on the merits of their achievements and courage—for following and sticking to what for them tastes good. And though my little shop would in no way be in those levels, it is in my awe of their greatness that has made me so determined to go through with it. It starts and begins with taste, though the incredibly daunting and often frustrating steps to putting up such tiny shop sometimes distracts my attention. In the end taste is all that matters, in life as in food.

December 9, 2009 at 6:57 PM 2 comments

Baked Macaroni Comforts Me

There are days when everything seems sullen.  Days like today. I felt sick waking up.  The head throbbed all throughout the day. Not painful enough to warrant a visit to the doctor, but there it was, a dull ache.  It seems that the sinusitis is acting up again.

A development came which literally pulled all my plans into fast forward.  And I have to work  twice as  fast  to  make sure that the pie shop will open in time before I move to another, more demanding project.  On top of that, I had to go out to ship a few stuffs for the online shop, which is pretty fine in itself, but the sun in Davao at noon is unforgiving. The heat was enough to make me a bit dizzy.

An afternoon of typing up the plans and reading up on biz stuffs and I know I needed something comforting at the end of the day.  Something delicious and simple enough to make.

I checked the pantry: tomato sauce, quickmelt cheese, bell pepper, a pack of chorizo,  corned beef. Perfect for a down home Baked Mac.

I’ve made countless variations of baked mac in the past ten years.  My standby recipe had rosemary and dried basil in the red sauce. I even made it into a sort of sideline, selling baked macs in small  aluminum  trays the size of a Harry Potter Hardbound  in the office  for PHP 65.00 about six years ago.

As you might have noticed from my past recipe postings, I have the habit of getting a recipe and changing it alltogether depending on what ingredients I have at hand.  For this batch of Baked Mac, I used Ms. Veneracion’s Baked Mac recipe as a loose guide.

I didn’t have ground beef so I made do with a can of Purefoods corned beef. I had no italian sausage but  there was a pack of chinese chorizo, so off it went to the sauce.

For the red sauce, I added  paprika, italian seasoning, and a dash of cream (just because there was an open container of cream in the ref).

I usually don’t use bechamel for the toppings in baked mac, relying on a can of cream of mushroom soup and grated cheese for the thick cheese layer but since I didn’t have a can of mushroom soup, I made do with bechamel sauce. For the Bechamel (white cheese sauce) I omitted the water, added an additional half cup of milk, omitted the cream cheese and added a dash of pepper and a pinch of nutmeg. For the cheese, I used the usual Quickmelt Cheese.

It turned out okay 🙂 The bechamel was a bit too brown perhaps because I used evap milk which has a darker, dirty white color instead of the fresh/skim milk from the carton. But the cheese flavor was spot on and I loved the sweetness that the chorizo bits gave to the red sauce. Pretty yummy and utterly comforting.

December 8, 2009 at 9:09 PM Leave a comment

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