Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Cakes That Did Not Make It To The List

[Attivo Cafe's Kahlua Chocolate Cake]

When I started this blog I vowed to publish only good reviews and just keep silent on my bad dining experiences, if any. But early on I realized that perspectives change when your choices and selections are made for the purpose of writing about it.

I also realized that I cannot cover each and every item that can be categorized under the general topic food. Which became a quandary, because if I kept silent on the bad, they would have been treated the same as the good that I won’t be able to write about.

So I have published some posts berating restaurants, though they are few and far in-between.

In the course of the past year I became very much involved in commercially as well as privately baked cakes for my cake of the month series. For each cake, there were about two to three that the family sampled, but which didn’t get actually featured for various reasons.

One main, underlying reason being, it wasn’t good enough. For the few months after I started the series I actually encountered a lot of cakes which elicited frowns and stares from whoever I was sharing it with.

Which made me decide that after everything is over and done with, I would compile all those cakes – all those fat! the sugar! – in one post. In retaliation for the money unduly spent, and the 40 pounds I gained these past twelve months.

So be warned. [Name of the cake is italicized, name of the bakeshop in bold letters]

  • Nono’s Chocolate Oblivion by Baba Ibazeta, Classic Confections, 2/F, Greenbelt 5, Makati City
    I loved this cake. Very, very light and airy, but the chocolate flavor was immensely powerful, the cocoa powder dusting and walnut praline provided crunch and textural “surprise.” However, the praline was too distracting – too hard a crunch on the soft cake. I was afraid the kids would choke on its many bits and pieces.

  • Chocolate Cake at Mary Grace Kitchen, kiosks in most food centers of Metro Manila malls
    I used to worship this cake. Very chocolatey, light but substantial, the custard filling not too sweet. But when I bought a box recently it tasted so lame, the chocolatey taste just a whisper. I chided the saleslady for the change in recipe. But she vehemently denied any change, insisting the recipe used was the same since Mary Grace started selling chocolate cakes. I guess, in between the first time I tasted it and this last time, I had tasted chocolate cakes that were more forceful, in comparison.

  • Prune Cake at Mary Grace Kitchen
    Sweet, but not as sweet as most sickly sweet prune cakes around. The sweetness is tempered by some hints of acidity, the cake enrobing the pieces of prunes very moist and hefty. Alas, the cake has been taken out of Mary Grace Kitchen’s shelves. No amount of pleading had been successful in getting me a cake. The baker said it is undergoing “re-engineering.” No need, for me. This cake was perfect. Sigh.

  • Kahlua Chocolate Cake at Attivo Café
    This was a rich, moist, perfectly sweetened chocolate cake. I had qualms about the liqueur content before we ordered, but our waitress said she ate it while she was pregnant. So. Within the first few bites, though, I was sweating and was getting red in the face, literally. I have very low tolerance level for alcohol, is why. So. I wasn’t about to give that cake to my kids. They might have inherited my defective genes.

  • Mango Torte by Dulcelin, 36 Times St., West Triangle Quezon City
    I love mangoes. Which goes to say I hate everything else that incorporates the fruit but does not make any effort for it to shine. Dulcelin’s Mango Torte is all about the crust, or cashew nougatine layer, not the mangoes. The nougatine is way too sweet and too crackly that the mango balls atop are reduced to frozen mush of bland fruit.

  • Chocolate Ganache by Dulcelin
    Touted for the use of Callebaut chocolate in the ganache, this cake is all about the icing. Which is superb. But I wish more thought was given to the cake. Because for me, the cake is the main event, and the icing is just that – just icing on the cake. A bonus, an extra. But here the cake is too dry that without the thick ganache it crumbles to unimaginable dryness.

  • Chocolate Cake by Celine, Caltex Gasoline Station, Sen. Gil Puyat Ave. (near corner Pasong Tamo), Makati City
    Too over-hyped cake, probably due to its cheap price. I couldn’t see what the buzz is all about. It’s super moist to the point of being chewy – because it is too sweet. And it tastes of fake vanilla and fake chocolate.

  • Death by Tablea at Chocolat, North Wing, SM Mall of Asia, Pasay City
    Too smoky, the cake exudes the taste of inferior cocoa beans that had been burnt while roasting. Perhaps to mask its low quality? The native hot chocolate cup also tastes the same.

  • Classic Chocolate Cake at Chocolat
    This is better than the tsokolate cake, though it’s too simple and straightforward, and the chocolate is not as forceful as I would have liked.

  • Tsokolate Cake at Tsoko.Nut, SM Makati, Makati City
    In this series I wanted to feature local ingredients, as much as possible. So I tried this one, and gave up.

  • Italian Chocolate Cake at Starbucks Philippines outlets
    This is a rich cake – a take on Starbucks’ classic chocolate cake, gussied up with thick ganache, mocha layers and chocolate chips. But it was way too rich, the chips too hard.

  • Truffle Cake at Gloria Jean’s Café outlets
    Truffle chocolate topping so thick it goes halfway down the cake. This cake would have benefited from using the best baking chocolate there is. But it opted to use something more inferior in quality, and it suffers. Besides, the cake (the other half) is too dry.

  • Brownie Cheesecake at Indulgence Cafe, Perea Street, Legaspi Village, Makati City
    This is a good example why brownies are not favorite toppings for cheesecakes. It doesn't add any dimension, which results in a cloying, hard-to finish slice.

  • Death by Chocolate at Indulgence Cafe
    Supposedly you will be smothered to death with the amount, and variety, of the chocolates involved in this cake. To me it is tasteless. Not one kind of chocolate shines on its own, and it's so disappointing. Death to this chocolate cake!

  • BTS Cake at Karen’s Kitchen, Adalla Street, Palm Village, Makati City (also available in UCC Cafes)
    Chocolate ganache cake, dulce de leche, whipped cream, chocolate shard layers. Soft, playful, whimsical. Delicious. Luscious. I don’t know why this didn’t make it to my monthly feature. Perhaps because of its name? I was celebrating an infant’s monthly birth day, after all. But I should have closed my eyes, and renamed it. The friend I shared a slice with didn’t know what BTS meant, and when I asked a guess, the reply was, in all innocence, better than sugar? Maybe I should have adopted that monicker. Delicious is still delicious by any other name.

  • [Karen's Kitchen Strawberry Shortcake]
    poor, sad-looking strawberries

  • Strawberry Shortcake at Karen’s Kitchen
    I should be grateful to Karen’s Kitchen when it provided me a strawberry cake in the middle of the rainy season, when all that my eldest asked was a strawberry cake for his birthday and nothing more. All commercial bakeshops and private bakers I called said no strawberry cake is available so out of the season. But Karen’s had one, and I thought I was saved. The website declares the cake is one of its bestsellers, and the person who took my order confirmed this. I wonder why. I wonder who likes this cake. Not for a thousand years will I begin to like a tiny morsel of it. Nor will my kids. The looks of it alone made me want to cringe. I will be giving this to my son? And it tasted as bad as it looked.

  • [Alba's Tarta de Sta. Teresa]

  • Tarte de Santa Teresa at Alba’s, Jupiter Street, Makati City
    This was included among the top 20 commercially produced cakes in Metro Manila, in an article published by the Philippine Daily Inquirer. I’m sure the author did not really try all those cakes she cited. She has a scapegoat, in that she qualified that the list is a compilation of recommendations from foodies and bloggers. Everybody else except her.

    This was one of the most accessible for me, so I tried it. It was eye-candy, and upon the first bite it was nice. Now there are cakes that make you eat mouthful upon mouthful of. This cake, you set aside after the first one. Too boring and too bland. The yema balls and icing taste the same as the cake. It’s not even sweet enough to be a cake. Not even eggy enough. Nor buttery enough. It tastes…nothing. Which is a waste, since with just a little more sugar and some lemony essence, this cake would be incredible. As it was, it was a case of having your cake and not
having to eat it, too.

Needless to say, I did not venture to try another cake from that top 20 list. And never will.

  • Swiss Cake, Potato Almond Crunch, et. al., at Becky’s, 1061 P. Ocampo corner Bautista Street, Manila
    For me and for a lot of my officemates and friends, no other brownie tastes as delectably and as incredibly good as Becky’s cherry walnut brownie. Super moist, dark chocolatey, rich but lightly sweetened, it’s perfect with tea, coffee or vanilla ice cream. I would have gathered bar upon brownie bar to make into a cake, or maybe ordered a box of uncut brownies. But Becky’s also sells cakes, so I had to try them. The most famous is the Swiss Cake, sworn to by loyal fans. And the Potato Almond Crunch, because of its novelty, and is supposedly a healthier alternative. I bought a slice of each, and all other else on the showcase cabinet – caramel cake, coffee cake, box cake, and more, but I forget their names. I forget, because not one cake is memorable. Too sweet, too dry, uninteresting. I’ll stick to the brownies.

  • [a slice of Conti's Mango Bravo]
    what's so bravo about the mango?where is the mango?

  • Mango Bravo, at Conti’s Deli, Serendra, Bonifacio Global City
    Again, a cake that doesn’t live up to its looks and reputation. Crusty broas (lady fingers) and some mangoes, which taste like it’s been put together in a rundown street bakery. Conti’s makes good business – some friends and I had to wait a full two hours for a table on a Friday evening. But the food complements the piped-in music – instrumentals that make you feel like you’re in those tacky wedding reception venues in Intramuros. The food likewise is like in a wedding reception – unimaginative, and smells and tastes of the warming, chafing dish. I was looking for salvation in the cakes, but they, too, tasted appallingly cheap.

  • Shortcake by Qitchen, Quezon City
    I wanted very much to try Qitchen’s strawberry shortcake, or the mango shortcake. Or even just the peach shortcake that uses canned peaches. But until now I haven’t had the opportunity to do so. I kept pestering the lady answering my calls (at 63922-8380308), but she kept telling me the shortcakes are not available, and promised to call once they do make one. She never called, and she stopped answering my calls.

  • [Costa Brava's Caramel Cake]

  • Caramel Cake at Pasteleria Costa Brava, Bel-Air, Makati City
    Everybody loves the caramel cake by Estrel, but everybody agrees that its location is too far when you’re in Makati. Especially since they don’t deliver. So, I was told, there’s an alternative that’s acceptable, though not good enough (nothing would be good enough compared with Estrel’s). And it’s located in Makati. I think my expectations were too high. The caramel cake looked a lot like Estrel’s, but was too far from taste and texture. The chiffon wasn’t fine enough, and the caramel was too thick. This may be good news to some, but at Costa Brava the caramel is not your amber-sweet, gooey syrup. It’s akin to sweetened burnt gravy that’s coagulated when put overnight in the ref.

  • Kesong Puti Cheesecake at The Coffee Beanery, Shangri-la Plaza Mall, Mandaluyong City
    This cheesecake has a coconut biscuit crust and sports cubes of kesong puti (local white cheese) on top. The crumb is light, but the taste and texture is like it’s 0% fat, and lacks a little sourness that could have elevated it to something worthy of writing about. The kesong puti adornment is also a tad too hard.

  • Mini Cakes at The Tea Republique, G/L Pacific Star Building, Sen. Gil Puyat Ave. cor. Makati Ave., Makati City
    The Tea Republique features cakes and desserts sourced from several bakeshops. Except for the ube cake, which is by Goodies & Sweets, its mini cakes are from The Purple Oven, and most of them – grandmother’s chocolate cake, sans rival, blueberry cheesecake – are negligible.

  • Mango Furumaji at Bread Talk outlets (most Metro Manila malls)
    I have seen this being made by way of the see-through window separating the sales counters from the kitchen. Fresh mangoes are used, and the piping of a happy face on the cake captured my kids’ fancies. But it’s not always available, and I wasn’t amenable to substituting with Bread Talk’s other cakes, which are mostly indecipherable.

  • Red Velvet Cake, S’Mores Cake, Belgian Chocolate Cake, at Red Ribbon
    The Red Velvet was debuted in time for mothers’ day last year, but I would have never given it to my mother. It was like eating a parchingly dry fruit cake, which I detest to the core of my being. The S’Mores, a take on the campfire classic, is too sweet, while the Belgian is so-so. The tried and tested Mango Cake and Ube Cake are still the best of Red Ribbon’s, for me.

  • Red Ribbon's S'Mores Cake

    Cakes of the Month - The Cakes That Did Make It To The List
    Cakes To Give and Receive
    Divine Chocolate Cake, by Divine Sweets (Puerto Princesa, Palawan)
    Cakelines, by Jon-Rhiz (Cavite City)
    Dayap Chiffon Cake, by Kiss Cafe (UP Diliman, Quezon City)
    Belgian Chocolate Cake, by a La Creme (City of San Fernando, Pampanga)
    White Chocolate Mousse, by Gateau de Manille (Katipunan Avenue, Quezon City)
    Mango Cake, by Red Ribbon (with outlets all across the country)
    Ube Cake, by Goodies and Sweets (several locations across Metro Manila)
    Mango Charlotte by Sweet Bella (Dasmarinas Village, Makati City)
    Strawberry Cake by Vizco’s (Baguio City)
    Almond Chocolate Fudge Cake by Malen's (Noveleta, Cavite)
    Caramel Cake by Estrel's (Quezon City)
    Marshmallow Cake by Estrel's (Quezon City)

    Other Cake Features
    Pinkie's Fondant Cakes, Pinkie's (Dagupan City)
    Sans Rival, et. al., House of Sans Rival (Dumaguete City)

    Tuesday, April 28, 2009

    Native Kamatis

    "Native" means it is endemic, or is traditionlly rooted to a specific place. It is what is used to refer to this kind of tomatoes, to differentiate it from the common Filipino tomato, which is round, yellow-reddish, thick-skinned and acidic.

    Probably the more correct term is heirloom, but in the countryside native is understood well enough, while heirloom would be Greek, its pronunciation subject to a lot of interpretation from North to South (let me see, irlum, erloam, hherlom...).

    This heirloom tomato is more bulbous, some segmented, the cross-section of which results in a beatiful star, or flower, is pinkish without any yellow or red or even orange shading, skin as thin as an onion's, and sweet without any hint of acidity.

    Its native designation nonetheless, it is not commonly found anywhere in any market or town. It is highly seasonal, appearing during summer in Pangasinan, and only for such a short period.

    Though it is sold for the same price as the common tomato, Pangasinenses value the native kamatis more. Since it is thin-skinned, it is not cooked, but just sliced and eaten fresh, with rock salt, bagoong or agamang. Which is just the perfect accompaniment to anything grilled. As it can be had only during summer, it is the side of choice during frequent summer outings - to the beach, or picnics under mango trees.

    I love native tomatoes with salted fermented krill, best made in Lingayen, and it featured in many a summer evening meal as I was growing up. Sultriness meant lazy days, and summer dinners usually called for fried tinapa (smoked scad), eaten with rice and sliced native tomatoes seasoned with agamang.

    My childhood was defined by souped rice - rice inundated with soup made from vegetables, the vegetables usually mashed up and mixed in. During summers of tinapa and tomatoes, my mother didn't bother to make soup, but she improvised by letting the tomato juices leach from the saltiness of the agamang. The juice became my soup. Sometimes, actually most of the time, my mother poured a bit of water onto the tomatoes, and the resulting juice-water mix was then poured onto my rice.

    I don't think that was just my mother's caprice, since sometimes I see my husband pouring water onto our tomato-agamang salad, too, then proceeding to spoon the "juice" onto his rice.

    More than the sentimental value, the tomato-agamang mix, with soup, is a prized side to fried and grilled fish that makes my mouth water. The freshness and sweetness of the tomatoes is countered very nicely by the meatiness and saltiness of the minute shrimps. Such that I cannot live without agamang. And heirloom tomatoes.

    Bahay Kubo

    Bahay kubo, kahit munti
    Ang halaman doon ay sari-sari
    Singkamas at talong, sigarillas at mani
    Sitaw, bataw, patani

    Gundol, patola, upo’t kalabasa
    At saka meron pa, labanos, mustasa
    Sibuyas, kamatis, bawang at luya
    Sa paligid-ligid ay puno ng linga

    roughly translated as:

    Bahay Kubo
    Filipino folk song

    Nipa hut, even though small
    the plants surrounding it are varied and many
    turnips and eggplants, winged beans and peanuts
    yard-long beans, hyacinth beans, lima beans

    wax gourd, sponge gourd, bottle gourd, squash
    and there’s more, radish, mustard
    onions, tomatoes, garlic, ginger
    and all around are trees of sesame

    Related Post
    Sauteed Tomatoes

    Monday, April 27, 2009


    It’s probably non-existent in markets now – I was able to buy some early in April, but wasn’t able to post about it at once due to a long list of other things to write about, and some problems with my internet connection.

    Pekak, belonging to the same family as the kamansi and rimas/arimas (commonly known as breadfruit), only makes its appearance for a few weeks upon the onset of summer, early March to April.

    Not that I look forward to its being in season – the fibrous pulp is softly chewy, but each segment has several pesky little round seeds that are inedible most of the time – too hard to chew on, or the skin much like a thin hard plastic cover that it’s best to spit them out. Too annoying and too distracting.

    The fruit is such a pain to harvest and peel, even – it’s full of sap, so much more than its relatives that it requires gloves, or a lot of oil on one’s palms, that it’s usually sold peeled, segmented and ready to cook.

    The sap that flows, upon harvest, coats the fruits and renders them black. Pekak is the smallest among its relatives, the size of a big fist. Kamansi and rimas easily grow to about two or three times bigger.

    Pekak, kamansi and rimas are the “savory” fruits in the family, eaten unripe – the more immature the better - as a vegetable in a stew salted with bagoong, with other vegetables such as okra and sitaw (yard-long beans). Their “sweet” relatives langka and marang - the humongous and biggest – and the medium-sized durian are made to ripen and be pungent, though pungently sweet.

    But all the sweet species are common, plus the kamansi. Pekak is seasonal, and cannot be found in large quantities, while rimas is very rarely seen in the part of Pangasinan where I grew up (central region).

    Related Posts

    Friday, April 24, 2009

    Milk Tea

    The weather’s been freakish this last week. Right smack in the middle of a raging summer, persistent rains have been soaking pavements, buildings, and the patches of soil in between, turning canals, rivers and creeks roiling and foaming as they make their way to the sea. The over-all effect of which is like the summer was rudely cut-off, and the rainy season has earnestly begun, with all teeth bared.

    Showers, maybe a little rain, are not a strange occurrence during summer. But not rains that last beyond a day, that wake up the frogs and make them croak in a symphony like it’s August, when the soil’s been waterlogged for weeks. The rains – referred to in that catch-all phrase ITCZ (short for inter-tropical convergent zone) comprising any weather disturbance not caused by a typhoon – have been predicted, but I’m sure the intensity, and persistence, caught everybody by surprise.

    Not that I’m complaining. We haven’t fully enjoyed our fruit shakes yet, but we make the most of it by indulging in other dishes temporarily banned from the table because of the heat. Like arroz caldo. Hot soups. Stewed meats.

    Most importantly, I get to indulge, if only for a brief moment, drinking a warming, calming mug of hot milk tea.

    I grew up in a household that treated tea as belonging to the arsenal of home remedies. In particular, diarrhea, and any other stomach trouble, required only a few fresh leaves from the tea plant growing in the front lawn, which were then boiled, and the resulting amber liquid imbibed. The flavors were too subtle to be enjoyed in a leisurely cup.

    My current collection of teas from around the world is testament to how much I have changed. Not only with how I regard tea, but also with how my tastebuds have evolved.

    Early in my college years I happened to find myself one summer afternoon in a small apartment in downtown Paris. And my host was offering tea. I retorted, silently, in my head, that I haven’t had diarrhea in a long time. But of course to my host I smiled, and graciously accepted. But the host had to ask if I wanted it with milk. Milk? With tea? Maybe she wanted me to have diarrhea.

    But I murmured oui, sil vous plait, along with a prayer to St. Jude.

    Nothing untoward happened. But then again, the taste wasn’t memorable. The tea was too subtly flavored to have survived the onslaught of the milk.

    I went around Western Europe for the entire summer, though, and experienced the exhilarating flavors of various teas. Without milk, and with dishes that complement them.

    But it wasn’t until I went to Japan one winter that I fully appreciated what milk tea is truly about.

    My trip was defined by long walks around parks and various landmarks, and long walks going to and from famous temples, well into the night. As it was my first time to experience winter the cold was penetrating, and made a lasting impression.

    Walking was a warming exercise, but I couldn’t escape the cold during moments when I had to stand still in order to absorb the beauty of a golden temple mirrored on the surface of a pond, or take in the expanse of a Buddha statue, or scrutinize the early blossoms of a flowering cherry tree (sakura), or simply ponder a deer’s nose nuzzling my wool coat.

    But I was able to soak in the ambience of many wonderful things and places, with the help of milk tea. Specifically, of hot cans of Kirin afternoon milk tea, from the famous Japanese beer-maker. Many vendo machines warming tall slim cans of coffee and teas dot roadsides and tourist spots, providing easy access to many gratifying, warming moments before moving on to the next stop in the itinerary.

    The Japanese milk tea made an impression on me. It helped that it was a source of comfort during the cold days of my wanderings, but on its own it was a satisfying, full-bodied can. The flavor of the tea was not suffocated by the milk, since what was used was soy milk, which was less forceful and more complementary in taste. The flavors actually melded.

    I have come a long way since that winter, and a lot of cafes and tea salons have invaded Metro Manila since then. I have discovered that, as with the variety of teas, there are also many kinds of milk tea. Even powdered milk tea is now available in single serve packets and with such accessible price in groceries these days, though they are not much good, for me.

    Freshly brewed tea tastes best, and I can say so because I make some - actually much, and frequently - at home for an enjoyment custom-made to my and my family’s preferences. A big part of my tea collection is devoted to milk teas.

    I enjoy a cup at tea salons every once in a while, and I find that I prefer those coming from the cuisines of Asia. Thai tea. Egyptian tea. Indian tea. I even love the nai cha, in both the hot and cold versions, of fastfood chain Chowking (I found that they use Steuart’s). One of the first milk teas I got addicted to was chai tea, though the versions of most cafes are overpowered by the milk (dairy) used.

    Not all teas can be mixed with milk. Oolong teas are the best to use, I have read, but with the popularization of red tea from the African rooibos, I found a rich and full-flavored red milk tea made by a coffee shop cum tea salon chain.

    But the most common and well-known tea blend, English Breakfast, for milk tea can suffice for home use, and it has warmed many a cold morning, be it rainy season or during the cold holidays. I have also discovered that I could approximate the red milk tea by blending maple tea and rooibos.

    The sun may be shining now, but no matter. I can drink milk tea, cold. And the rainy season is just around the corner.

    Related Posts
    Thai tea at Sala Thai (Padre Faura, Manila)
    Middle Eastern tea at Khas Food House (UP Diliman, Quezon City) and Ziggurat (Duran cor. Makati Ave., Makati City)
    Indian tea at AUM New Bombay (Ayala Ave. cor. Buendia, Makati City)
    African sunrise tea at Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf
    My other drink addiction is tsokolate

    Wednesday, April 15, 2009

    Pinaupong Manok Sa Asin

    {Chicken seated on salt}

    Chicken made to "sit down" on a bed of salt. It is whole chicken put atop a layer of rock salt and cooked in a covered banga (clay pot) over a woodfire. The salt draws out the bird's juices, which then steams it, resulting in a fork-tender, succulent chicken reminiscent of the Chinese white or steamed chicken.

    And like the Chinese white chicken, or its kith and kin, the Hainanese chicken, it is served with a dipping sauce, to be mixed according to individual tastes. The usual Filipino sauce, though, is toyo (soy sauce) and coconut vinegar or kalamansi, and some finger chiles.

    I heard about pinaupong manok from a barkada (buddy, friend) I used to hang out with whenever I went home to Pangasinan during college breaks. He comes from a family of butchers, and the both of us always took charge of cooking what we'd bring to the beach during group outings.

    We never cooked pinaupong manok, but he recounted the basic procedure once when we were waiting for our adobo to dry up. He also said the chicken would turn a golden brown just like a lechon manok (roasted whole chicken), which was just beginning to be popular that time.

    Then I got a job, and my vacations were spent scouring the country's islands, or somewhere else entirely. We rarely saw each other then, but I never forgot the "seated chicken." So when I got married and had my own kitchen it was one of the first things I cooked.

    Because I lived in Metro Manila I didn't have the necessary open backyard in which to build a woodfire. So I cooked the seated chicken in a large, covered casserole pan over a stove top. After rubbing un-iodized sea salt all over and in the cavity, then rinsing it out, I pre-marinated the chicken for at least a day in kalamansi, toyo (soy sauce) and lots of crushed garlic.

    After about an hour of cooking over low heat the chicken was done, but I was disappointed to discover a very pale chicken. So I put the pan lid back on and let the chicken cook for another hour, relying on my friend's promise of a rusty, grilled hue.

    After two hours the meat was falling off the bone, but still anemic. I had no choice but to turn off the stove and lift out the chicken. The bed of salt had caked into a thick disc, but I was lucky no chicken part had stuck to it.

    The previously seated but now totally flat-out chicken tasted terrific, unappetizing color nonetheless. And very succulent despite the long cooking time.

    As I hadn't owned an oven or rotisserie, or even a turbo-broiler, until recently, this cooking method was my only resort if I wanted chicken without sauce but not fried. So I vowed to do it again.

    I was haunted by the pale color, though. I was told by the househelp that no amount of cooking time will brown the chicken. I was thinking of achuete oil, but when the family moved to Cavite I discovered that luyang dilaw or luyang Tagalog (turmeric) is common in the public markets. And I remembered a friend from Iloilo saying that inasal (grilled chicken pieces in the Hiligaynon district) is rubbed with luyang dilaw.

    So turmeric - peeled and pounded to a pulp - got mixed with my tested and proven kalamansi-toyo-garlic marinade. The rhizome dyes everything it touches a yellow-orange tinge (it's not really yellow ginger, as the name implies), including the househelps' palms (I usually leave the dirty work to them, hehehe...).

    But the resulting seated chicken has a lovely orangey hue, almost more attractively looking than lechon manok. And as it is steamed, there is no mean fiber in it, but juicy and softly yielding all throughout.

    The turmeric (Curcuma longa L.) doesn't make much difference in flavor. It looks like the real ginger root, though an emaciated one, but has no bite. But I prefer using it over achuete because of its medicinal properties.

    I would discover much later, though, that pinaupong manok* is really meant to be pale, probably a descendant of the Chinese, or even the Hainanese. It is not even pre-marinated, nor seasoned. But it is a Tagalog chicken, served up during feasts in the provinces of Bulacan, Rizal, Laguna, Batangas and as far as Quezon, or in short, the area where the Tagalog language is spoken.

    I have been stuffing garlic cloves and tanglad (lemongrass) into the cavity of my pinaupong manok, but for this last one I included young tamarind leaves. Before I cooked it I was texting a friend from Bacolod, and he mentioned that young tamarind leaves is used to stuff lechon manok in Negros.

    We used to do that with lechon baboy (whole roasted pig). With chicken the sourness is pronounced, leaving not a hint of langsa. And because this time I had the opportunity of cooking it in a banga over a woodfire, it had a bit of smokiness to it.

    I might say this is a truly Filipino chicken - incorporating the various flavors of the regions, using local and long-used seasonings.

    *It is called only pinaupong manok. I had to qualify that it sits on asin because I had written about a similarly seated chicken previously, but it is in soup, without much salt.

    Related Posts
    Pinaupong Manok Sa Sabaw
    Tinolang Native Na Manok
    Pininyahang Manok
    Adobo sa Mangga
    French Baked Adobo
    Chicken with Old Bay Seasoning
    Chicken Fillet with Mango
    Chicken Mapo Tofu

    Luyang Dilaw
    Dinilawang Atsara
    Arroz Caldo sa Dilaw
    Malabanos sa Dilaw

    Sunday, April 12, 2009

    Easter Rooster

    On Black Saturdays, during that part of my childhood spent in my paternal grandparents' house, I'd invariably hear my lola (grandmother) ask no one, in particular, what we'd have for Pascua. A sort of thinking out loud, what to cook up and serve during Easter Sunday.

    And invariably, we'd have free-range, totally organic chicken raised in the backyard, in soup, as the centerpiece of the Easter meal. Even when we moved into our own house, when I was six, the family would still spend Easter Sunday with my grandparents, and we'd unvaryingly share tinolang native na manok after the egg hunts, year after year.

    When I started cooking for the family at the ripe old age of twenty or so, I tried to cook other dishes for Easter. My grandparents had both passed away by then, and the crop of native chickens had gradually dwindled to nothing.

    But the Easter meals still centered around chicken, though it was chicken I had tasted from my travels in and out of the country, and chicken that was "white-leghorn" (mass-bred and -raised).

    When I got married I started spending the Holy Week with my husband's family, and I went back to eating tinolang native na manok for Easter. When we'd arrive at the house at the start of the holidays - on Maundy Thursday - we'd find a large rooster already cooped up, waiting for the slaughter at dawn of Sunday.

    At my in-laws' the kitchen is not my turf, though I'd also hear the question what would we have for Pascua? thrown into the air, but specifically to the air around where I'd be lounging around. I'd just shrug, seeing the rooster, and thinking of my childhood days.

    There is nothing as comforting as a steaming bowl of well-seasoned soup, with the essence of a muscled, organic chicken imparted to it from slow cooking over a woodfire. Even in a summer when the air is in danger of spontaneously combusting.

    Accentuated with marunggay leaves, it's gratifying, for body and soul. And I want my children to experience Easter the way I did.

    So when I'm craving to try a new dish, I'd just cook it as an addition to the tinola. The tinola will always claim its reserved place on the table, as long as I'd have my way.

    Related Post
    Tinolang Native Na Manok
    Pinaupong Manok Sa Sabaw

    Wednesday, April 08, 2009

    Larak tan Ganuza

    {Langis ng niyog at latik, coconut oil and coconut cream curds}

    Fatalistic tendencies, which I find cross borders and transcend cultures and affinities, render us humans attaching an inordinate amount of importance to luck. So we wish one another good luck, be it for a trifle thing or a grand undertaking. And we consider things, places, days, even persons, lucky or unlucky.

    In the Philippines we take this to the extreme. Claiming as the only Christian country in Southeast Asia, we are devoted to our religion/s, so much so that we consider any religious event, icon, and the like, lucky. We wipe statues with our hankies to wipe on ourselves (for healing), we carry their carts during processions in the belief that it will bestow upon us blessings, we pray for wins in the lottery. We keep on our house doors the palm fronds used during Palm Sunday as a talisman against lightning.

    Holy Week is a venerated time, when a lot of things is forbidden. Laughter is banned, and the spirit of penitence is taken seriously. Good Friday, the heaviest - the most revered - day of the week, is a dichotomy of sorts, as it is a combination of good and Friday, which is usually considered an unlucky day (no wedding is celebrated, nor no funeral is held, on Fridays).

    Travel on a Good Friday is considered an unlucky decision, as the risk of encountering accidents is at its highest. But at the same time, the day is the luckiest one can get, and there are things done only on Good Fridays to take advantage of this good luck.

    The most well known is the supposed witches' coven on an island in the Visayas. They gather on Good Friday, and it is believed that their powers (healing or otherwise) can reach its maximum level on this day.

    In Pangasinan there are no such witches, healers or otherwise, who form a coven. But on Good Friday, specifically at noontime, the whole province is enveloped in the thick, almost rancid scent of coconut oil.

    Pangasinenses make coconut oil all the time, for a variety of purposes. But coconut oil, or larak in the local language, made at noontime of Good Friday is believed to possess magical powers derived from the auspiciousness of the circumstance being commemorated. It can heal even in the hands of non-healers. It can even take the place of holy water.

    So the day before there is a scramble to climb trees to harvest mature coconuts (it is taboo to climb trees on Good Friday). These are then opened, the meat grated, then stored to be expressed the next day.

    In the morning of Good Friday the grated coconut meat is mixed with water, squeezed, then sieved to get the gata (coconut cream and milk). The creamy and milky gata is boiled over a woodfire, stirred occasionally, until it thickens and clears. The cream/milk is reduced to brown curds which sink to the bottom. The oil is then strained to separate the curds.

    The curds is called ganuza, or latik commonly. These are used as topping on a variety of kakanin (puddings, rolls, cakes made from glutinous rice), producing nutty accents to the creaminess of the local delicacies. These kakanin are traditionally served and eaten on Easter Sunday, when fasting is over and feasting is in order.

    Ordinarily, though, by which I mean outside of the Holy Week, old folks in Pangasinan eat the ganuza along with boiled rice. And ordinarily, too, larak is used for its natural healing properties, way, way before the advent of VCO (virgin coconut oil). It is used in massage, in setting bones, in rituals ascertaining who harmed who, in correcting the position of a fetus in the womb.

    Good Friday increases these properties to new heights.

    Tuesday, April 07, 2009

    Avocado Shake

    Another delicious, fiber-laden and vitamin-enriched way to combat the raging summer heat - slices of ripe avocado, a tray of ice, a drop of condensed milk, and a splash of evaporated or fresh/low fat milk, blended until smooth.

    It's not yet the peak of avocado season in the Philippines, but they're quite common nowadays, and the average going price of Php70 a kilo makes them already reasonable to buy.

    Some people express fright at eating an avocado - it's purportedly rich in cholesterol and fats. I did research on it a few years ago for a health magazine, and I found out that, well, it really is packed with fats and cholesterol. But it is the healthy fat and healthy cholesterol, which actually even helps bring down the bad cholesterol levels in the body.

    It also has those lipids and amino acids that feed and develop the brain. So it is all I feed my babies when it's in season, and I actually laugh at my hypertensive aunt-in-law (secretly, of course) when she avoids avocados (and tsokolate) but eats pork and beef every other day.

    And because of that high fat content, it makes the stomach feel full. Just a glass of avocado shake is enough for breakfast, and even reduces food intake for the whole day. Which is why avocado enthusiasts extol it as an aid in losing weight.

    I sometimes eat an avocado by itself, when I'm in a hurry to catch the bus that I don't have time to make a shake. It's like eating bland butter. There are only two ways I know of eating an avocado - in a shake, and cubed and mixed with milk and sugar, eaten chilled - and both very enjoyable.

    Friday, April 03, 2009

    Mango Shake

    One of the simplest pleasures I get from summer is nursing a tall glass of mango shake - awesomely fragrant, ripe Pangasinan mangoes peeled, de-seeded and sliced, blended with several tablespoonfuls of condensed and evaporated milk, and two trays of cube ice, enough to make a liter for breakfast, or afternoon refreshment.

    Of course the best and simplest way to eat an incredibly sweet mango is just peeling with your hands and eating it from the seed without slicing it (here's how). Or if you're shy, slicing the two cheeks (previously chilled) and scooping the sunshine flesh with a spoon.

    But mangoes mean summer, and summer with mangoes translates to prickly skin rashes that are aggravated by the summer heat. Mangoes heat up the body like no other fruit can. So I like to have them in a shake, for the chill before the fire. ;-)

    Strangely enough, the best mango shakes I've had are the ones from the Visayas - everywhere there, on any island large or tiny, be it from a shake stand along the shores of a beach, or the open-air inasal joints, the restaurant of a resort, or even the hoity-toity dining places. As long as it's not in Luzon it's bound to be wonderful, that not a place anywhere in Metro Manila could beat it.

    Other ways to enjoy a mango
    Mango Ice Candy
    Green Mango Shake
    Mango Sago
    Choco-Mango Float
    Stir-Fried Chicken with Mango

    Thursday, April 02, 2009

    Cassava Fries

    The first time I went to Cavite, when the family was still on a weekender mode, more than three years ago, I saw these fat, sugar coated fries being cooked by a vendor outside the gate of the compound where my husband worked and lived on weekdays.

    They were cassava fries, made from the tuber of the kamoteng kahoy or balinghoy (cassava wenno manioc), cut into wedges, fried, coated in sugar, then refried. They had a distinctive aroma - like that of a bakeshop, or how a house smells when a cake is baking - with a chewy, almost malagkit texture.

    The taste was also more of a pastry's than a starchy root's, and I became an instant fan. Cassava fries became the treat I looked forward to on weekends whenever we visited Cavite. I never saw it anywhere else, kamote fries (made from kamoteng waklay, or kamote - sweet potato, Ipomoea batatas) being the more common fries (aside from the fastfood, potato kind).

    It continued to be a weekend treat when we moved into the city. Much as I wanted to, I couldn't have it on weekdays - the stand hasn't opened yet as I leave for work, and it has already closed shop when I arrive.

    I could have made cassava fries at home - or instructed the househelp - weekends and weekends of watching the vendor fry them up has made me the wiser on the procedure (and I actually asked how, and was given a favorable reply), but I had been afraid that having them frequently at home would somehow make their novelty fade. Plus, the amount of oil that the frying would consume might have turned me off.

    Though I seriously considered, when the vendor disappeared for several months. It left me taking furtive longing glances at the closed and empty stall. But he came back, with a pregnant wife now working beside him. And I was happy again.

    But now he tells me he is stopping to make cassava fries. People are not buying anymore, because of that cassava poisoning (I don't know which one - several happen every once in a while).

    What now? What about the cassava pudding I'm planning to bake? And the pinais? Poeple avoid things for a while, but go back to them when nothing untoward happens again. I hope I can have my cassava fries again. Or I'll be forced to make them myself.

    Related post
    Pinais (cassava suman)

    Wednesday, April 01, 2009


    {washed and ready-to-eat whole and sliced guapples along a metropolis roadstand}

    The name guapple, given to this extra-large, probably hybrid guava that had been reportedly propagated in the country from a species endemic to Thailand, is a contraction of guava and apple.

    I suppose it is related to the apple, though no literature suggests this. Cross-breeding or otherwise, it is actually bigger than a large apple, or the size of the smallest local melon (sold at Php10 each in the public markets).

    The flesh is more porous than an apple's, but it is cooked mostly the same way, and most commonly in a guapple pie (made famous by an old and venerated bakeshop, El Ideal, in Silay City, in the island of Negros down south).

    But for those used to snacking on the more common local guavas, which are small (extra-large at about 3 inches in diameter) and which can just be had by picking on anybody's fruit-laden tree, the guapple, like all fruits blown up out of proportion, is bland, almost tasteless, which really can't be compensated for by the amount of flesh that can be eaten.

    The guapple's flesh is crispier, though, since it is not as dense. The seeds are also less, but are far more distributed into the flesh, unlike the local guavas whose seeds are in a tight, compact ball that forms the fruit's core.

    The price, at about Php30 per piece at its lowest during summer (it is available year-round, but the prices vary), is also prohibitive, considering nobody actually ever pays for the local guava. The local guava tree/s are largely considered a community/public property, and paying for a piece of guapple can be a real, snobbish act.