My first taste of Egypt

Touchdown! As we landed in Cairo I pressed my face against the plane's window. Was I really here? Yes, yes, yes! And happy to be here too. As we disembarked and were met by our tour coordinator, I greedily took it all in. Cairo is a bustling city, but the atmosphere was so different from anywhere I had ever been. Men hurrying about in gallabiya (traditional long robes worn by both men and women) or just chilling outside a cafe, smoking a sheehsa (water pipe). Groups of women in veils, chatting happily amongst themselves. But also lots of people in jeans and sport shirts, McDonald's and Pizza Hut. It was both tradtitional and cosmopolitan. Relaxed and frenetic. The citadel (the heart of medieval Cairo) loomed in the distance. Beside me taxis zoomed by at insane speeds. There was an intense dry heat that lulled me into a very contented state of being. Just landed and I was already under its spell.

All my excitement however could not mask the fact that I had just come off a veeery long plane ride, and was very, very hungry. When Nour, our cassanovish tour coordinator (he has 15 girlfriends and never sleeps), asked if we needed anything I immediately piped up, "Food!". So he took us to a street side snack bar where we had two of the most classic and common of Egyptian foods -- fuul and t'aamiyya.

Appropriately enough (for me at least), Egyptians have fuul and t'aamiyya for breakfast. Hooray! My first egyptian breakfast food! Well, they have it throughout the whole day as well, but let's not rain on my parade. We grabbed some goodies chosen by Nour and hopped back into our van.

The picture above is a platter of t'aamiyya. Not seen in the picture is the big vat of oil in which they were fried. Below, is the t'aamiyya snugly ensconced in a pita, with chopped tomatoes, onions, parsely, and some tahina (sesame seed paste), half eaten by me.

T'aamiyya is the Egyptian version of falafel. It's more crisp though, and more green, owing to the fact that they have lots of coriander leaves or parsley together with the ground fava beans. It was definitely similar to the other falafels of my past, but had a slightly different taste...perhaps because it had more greens? Anyway, I loved it!

Below is the fuul. Also neatly spread into a pita, also with some chopped veggies, and also being eaten by me. I was on holiday, so it was "do everything, eat everything" time. Wahoo! Fuul is greenish brown Arabic fava beans. They are boiled and mashed to make a paste, which in turn can be mixed with a score of other ingredients from chickpeas to eggs. This would fall under your Mediterranean bean pastes I suppose, like hummus, but with a different flavor altogether...closer to the taste of the darker bean varieties. It became a quick favorite, and we had it many times throughout our trip.

Together with the fuul and t'aamiyya, we had a side of pickled vegetables called turshi (pictured below). Their sour/sweet crunch went perfectly with the heavy nutty-ness of our bean based snacks.

Our first meal in Egypt, though simple, was still a thrill. And looking back, probably one of my favorites. Jumping around the snack bar and pointing at all its offerings (and causing quite a stir in the process), stuffing our faces in a van that careened wildly at top speed, stopping in a side street to get some orange soda at a corner shop and meeting its cute proprietor Mohammed...all delicious fun.

Here's a little collage of street scenes (apt since our first meal was bought on the street). That cute little fellow in the green and yellow soccer jersey is Mohammed of the orange sodas. The two shawarma grills were from the snack bar where we purchased our goodies. And the other two pictures are of donkey-pulled carts of fresh produce, one of various vegetables and one with a crate of freshly baked bread.

That's it for now...until my next Egypt post!

Note: I must apologize for the quality of some of the I said, I was in a wildly careening van while a few of them were taken :)

Lasang Pinoy 2: Binakol

The 2nd round of Lasang Pinoy is finally here! This month's theme is Cooking Up A Storm and is hosted by the lovely Celia Kusinera of English Patis. We are supposed to blog about food that we associate with the wild typhoons and monsoons that beset our country every rainy season (fyi: we have 2 seasons here, wet and dry, i.e. rainy and, uh, summer). At best, rainy season meant you didn't have to go to school, at worst, it meant total devastation.

I don't really remember a specific food that I ate during the rainy seasons. I do remember though a very specific night, during one raging typhoon, when the heat of this particular soup (both in temperature and in flavor) soothed my soul and warmed my insides.

Things warm and soupy always comfort me during gloomy weather, but this soup is special. Binakol has always been my grandmother's absolute favorite soup and she has it every time she can. No surprise then that it was part of the menu for her 80th birthday party. As 80 is quite a milestone, my family planned a big to-do for her birthday dinner. Turns out that mother nature also planned a big to-do on the same the form of a wild, signal # 2 (that means bad) storm. I remember the rain pelting ferociously on our car window as we drove across town. I thought we were nuts! We were (well, still are actually). The power was out in various parts of the city yet we pressed on. It was my grandmother's 80th birthday after all.

We got to my uncle's house to find a full blown gala dinner: Long buffet table laden with all sorts of food, from roasts to pasta to oysters resting in a huge silver bowl (yes, oysters during typhoon season, I told you we were nuts), fresh coconut shells filled with binakol, eager wait-staff ready to refill your wine glasses, a kesong puti and pan de sal toasting station (!), linen, crystal, china, silver, huge floral centerpieces with candles, the works. Nice? It get's better. This whole event was held...outdoors! Yup. Under a billowy white tent straight out of My Best Friend's Wedding, this affair was set up. A billowy tent with a chandelier. I kid you not. Now the brilliant caterers who arranged everything had the foresight to not only secure the tent firmly to the ground, but also to anchor it to the house. There were moments though when I swore it would just take off as the wind pulled and tugged at it. I felt like I was in the middle of a Guns N Roses video.

Amidst this surreal setting, what I remember most is happy faces of my relatives shouting "Tuloy ang ligaya!", which means "Let the fun/happiness continue!", the love and cameraderie so palpable in the air, the absolute craziness of my family (which is the very thing I love about them) and my unflappable grandma graciously smiling and holding court, a glass of wine in one hand and an oyster in the other...all this as the tempest raged about us, ignored. I happily observed everything from a slightly damp seat, sipping at wickedly hot binakol which warmed my tummy as the scenes around me warmed my heart.

Binakol (aside from being my grandma's favorite soup, which for me is the most important detail to note) is a soup very much like our Tinola (a local chicken soup). It has, however, the addition of lemongrass (giving it some heat to warm yourself during a storm) and fresh coconut meat and coconut water (which adds a touch of sweetness, reminding you that this storm too shall pass). Comfort in a bowl.

Here's the recipe:


- One whole chicken (around 1 kilo), cut up
- 9 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 onion, chopped
- 20 grams fresh ginger, peeled and cut into ½ inch chunks, each chunk given 2 firm pounds with a mortar and pestle
- 6-8 stalks tanglad (lemongrass), use only the white part and smash this with the bottom of a heavy glass on your chopping board (don’t use the mortar and pestle, don't know why, be we don't, we like it smashed flat...ok, fine, use it if you don't want to get the glass out)
- Black peppercorns, pounded a bit in the mortar and pestle (I like this better than the pepper mill, at least for this dish)
- 3-4 tablespoons patis (fish sauce), to taste
- One young (unripe) papaya, peeled and chopped (don’t forget to remove the seeds!)
- A bunch of sili leaves (chili leaves)
- The meat from 3 fresh coconuts
- 3 – 3 1/2 cups fresh coconut water
- 6 cups water or rice washing (got the rice washing tip from Market Manila, check out his great post on Binakol! Thanks Market Man, it worked brilliantly!)

Here's what you do:

- Pour patis on your chicken pieces and rub in the crushed peppercorns.
- Sauté the garlic, onions, ginger, and tanglad in some hot oil for a couple of minutes.
- Toss in the chicken (make sure all the patis and pepper goes with it!).
- When the chicken pieces have browned, pour in the water/rice washing.
- Add the young papaya pieces.
- Bring to a boil and then lower heat and simmer until chicken is tender.
- Add the coconut meat, coconut water, and sili leaves
- Bring to a quick boil once more, immediately lower the heat, and taste to see if it needs more patis (don’t let it cook too much after you add the sili leaves because they cook super fast).

Important: Use fresh coconuts!

Some notes: The first picture shows how I had my binakol on that wild and wonderful eve of my grandma's 80th, inside a fresh coconut shell. I love eating it this way because you can scrape some extra coconut meat from the inside while you have your soup. The second picture is just for you to see more of the soup.

More notes: Invited my grandma over for dinner after I made this batch today. We had a great evening!

To conclude: Nothing cures the rainy day blues like a whole lotta love, a good sense of the insane, and a hot bowl of soup :)

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I have touched greatness!

I'm back! What a trip! Egypt was like nothing I had ever seen before...the great ancient-ness of it all, the mystery (how did they build those things?!) and the madness ("Come see my things! No hassle! No hassle! No cost to look!")! It was a glorious cacophony of sights and sounds. I had to pinch myself every so often...

I am in the process of looking through all my pictures and those of my travel companions (over a thousand photos in total), and trying to organize what and how I am going to post them here. I am also wading through tons of work email. So I'll be posting bits at a time, probably interspersed with regular, non-Egypt posts (including my Lasang Pinoy entry!).

Meanwhile, I'll leave you with some images...

The Sphinx and the Great Pyramid of Cheops in Giza...

Sailing on a felucca in Aswan...

The Kiosk at the Temple of Philae in Aswan...

Cruising down the Nile...the view from the deck of our boat...

The obelisk at dusk in the Temple of Luxor...

Massive columns in the Temple of Karnak...

I'm still may have only been a week, but I have amassed a thousand wonderful memories, not just of the amazing sights, but also of all the little experiences along the way (including the food I ate and the people I met!). And now as I sit at my desk, back in the daily grind, I can smile wistfully and remember...until the next adventure!

Off to Egypt!

After years of yearning, I am finally on my Egypt! This has been a long awaited dream and now I am going! Pharaohs, Mummies, and cruising down the Nile. Pyramids, Temples, and exotic bazaars. Spices, perfume, and alabaster. Kaftans, jewelry, and Egyptian cotton. Most importantly, a land I have never seen, people I have never met, and local food I have never tasted...the thrill of discovery...that is what I love about travel.

No matter how far I roam, no matter how many horizons I cross, let me never have "been there" and "done that". Let me never lose the joy of discovery, whether on another continent or in my own backyard.

See you when I get back! :-)

Breakfast # 7: Soft boiled egg with asparagus on toast

Penguin Books celebrated their 70th anniversary this year by publishing 70 adorable Pocket Penguins by a selection of some of their most well loved authors. Each book is unique, either especially written by the author for this auspicious occasion, or a selection of the author's past work. The authors ran the gamut from Albert Camus to Zadie Smith, George Orwell to Roald Dahl, Sigmund Freud to Anne Frank, Anton Chekov to India Knight. When the shipment arrived at the book store where I used to work, I razed the shelves and got around a dozen of the 70 being a lovely little piece called Something for the Weekend by Jamie Oliver.

The book is a small collection of some of his favorite recipes for "the weekend", a time spent with family and friends. This meal is taken from his "Brekkie" section (don't you just love that word?) and combines two of my favorite (not only for) breakfast foods: Bacon and Eggs...and not just any eggs...runny, soft boiled wonders! Runny is the only way for me with eggs...I get ornery if even the slightest bit of yolk starts to harden. The recipe also includes one of my favorite veggies: Asparagus. So I knew I was definitely having this for "brekkie".

I changed it slightly from the original to serve just one person (me!). The original recipe serves four.

Here we go:

Soft boiled egg with asparagus on toast
(adapted from Something for the Weekend by Jamie Oliver)

- 1 ripe tomato
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- extra virgin olive oil
- 3 slices of bacon (Jamie suggests pancetta as well...sadly, I didn't have any on hand)
- 1 large egg (in the Philippines I always use extra large because the eggs here seem smaller)
- a bunch of asparagus spears (enough for you to eat in one serving, be generous, this is breakfast remember?)
- 1 slice of rustic bread (I used sourdough because, well, I like it, and it's what I had)
- a knob of butter

Here's what you do:

- Cut your tomato in half and place on a pan or roasting tray, cut side up. Season with salt and pepper, and drizzle with olive oil. Grill.
- When the tomato starts to color, lay your bacon slices beside it and continue grilling until the bacon is crisp and remove.
- While you are doing the above steps, you can start boiling some water for the egg. Place the egg and the asparagus in the boiling water for four minutes (check on the asparagus though, they may be ready before that if they are thin) then remove.
- Toast your bread.
- Toss the asparagus with butter to coat.
- Peel the egg (this was tricky...I felt the soft boiled egg was going to break apart in my hand! Cup it gently in your palm and speak kind words to it and everything should be fine).
- Get one half of the tomato and squash it into your toast.
- Arrange asparagus on toast that has been smothered with mushed tomato.
- Lay your bacon on top of the asparagus.
- Top the whole thing carefully with the egg.
- When you feel the egg is anchored somewhat securely, cut it open and let the luscious, runny yolk dribble down.
- Drizzle with some olive oil.

Then comes my favorite part of Jamie's recipes...the part where you "tuck in"! This was truly a woderfully hearty breakfast. The crispness and smokiness of the bacon was fantastic against the bright asparagus flavor, and the soft richness of the egg. The tomato on the bread also added a great touch (something like pan con tomate, a favorite of mine from Barcelona). I used the other tomato half as a garnish. I think it's enough to say that my plate was sparkling clean when I was done eating.

I like Jamie Oliver because he looks so endearingly rumpled and his dishes always sound so homey and nourishing. And, as I don't live in the UK, I still find words and phrases like, "brekkie", "tuck in", "puds", and "sarnie my stylie" quite adorable.

Note: You can also find Jamie's recipe here.

Osso Buco

As promised! Here's the recipe for the Osso Buco I made for my dear friend K's housewarming gift basket.

First, some background. This has been one of my mom's signature dishes for a long time and I have never attempted to make it. I love it to bits...I love stew-y, slow cooked things, but I was a bit intimidated because of, well, the whole living-up-to-the-original thing. But this is K's favorite dish of my mother's and so I decided to just push up my sleeves and hazard an attempt. Unfortunately, my mom is off on her yearly NYC adventure so I had no one to badger about the details or any changes she made in the original recipe (which incidentally comes from a ratty old copy of Better Homes and Gardens Italian Cook Book), so I ended up making a lot of changes on my own.

Changes (both mine and my mother's) as follows:
- We use beef instead of veal. Eeek! Not-a-REAL-Osso-Buco! Veal is not widely available here and is a tad pricey, so there you go. This seems to change the very essence of what Osso Buco is, but we love it anyway...and it might actually be better for some this way, who knows...
- I made a lot more sauce than the original recipe intended. We love our rice here and my brother has to have this dish with tons of sauce for slathering on his rice.
- I add an inordinate amount of bones with marrow. Horribly unhealthy I know! But I just love it. And I think it adds great flavor and depth to the dish as a whole. Truth be told, K's batch didn't get all the bone marrow that was originally cooked in...a few went straight from the pot to my belly! But yes, cholesterol overload (story of my life), so feel free to reduce or omit as you see fit.
- We add orange juice.

Ok, enough chat, here's the recipe:

Beef Osso Buco
(heavily adapted from the Osso Buco in Better Homes and Gardens Italian Cook Book)

- 1.5 – 1.6 kilos beef shank (I use bone-in shank, the ones with marrow), cut meat into 2 – 2 ½ inch sections
- 0.5 - 0.6 kilos extra shank bone with marrow (I have the butcher saw them into 2 inch sections)
- 3 – 4 tablespoons flour
- 1 – 1 ½ cups chopped onions
- 1 cup chopped celery
- 2 cups chopped carrots
- 2 tablespoons chopped garlic
- 1.2 kilos canned chopped/crushed tomatoes (I use one 800 gram can and one 400 gram can)
- 1 ½ cup dry white wine
- Juice from 1 orange
- 1 ½ cup water
- 2 beef bouillon cubes
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 3 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 teaspoons grated orange peel
- 1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
- 2 bay leaves
- Olive oil for cooking
- Sea salt and pepper

Here's what you do:

- Sprinkle the meat with salt and pepper then dredge lightly in flour.
- In a Dutch oven (I don’t have one so I use a heavy bottomed pot) brown meat on all sides in hot oil.
- Remove meat and set aside.
- Add onion, carrot, celery, and garlic. Cook until onion and celery are tender.
- Return meat to your pot.
- Stir in undrained tomatoes, wine, orange juice, bay leave, orange peel, lemon peel, beef bouillon, thyme, water, and a dash pepper.
- Bring to a boil then reduce heat.
- Cover and simmer until meat is tender (the original recipe says it should take 1 – 1 ½ hours but mine took approximately double that...I'm using beef not veal so that may have a little something to do with that, oh well...just cook it gently until it's really tender).
- A while into the cooking, check if extra seasoning is needed and if so, add some salt to taste (the original recipe adds the salt earlier on but I prefer adding salt, aside from salt used to season the meat, later in the cooking because of horrible salty episodes in the past).

The original recipe has you remove the meat once cooked to further reduce the sauce, but we never do this step.

This is a very hearty, comforting, meat stew. Something, I guess, that would be considered a "winter" dish. We have no winter to speak of here, but our wet season is coming on (well, it seems to be in a series of false starts) so more reason for me to enjoy it :-)

Happy Housewarming! A gift of edible treats...

My best friend, K, held an intimate dinner for eight at at her brand new apartment, both as housewarming and also as a little birthday celebration. Now, I had already given her a birthday gift (lots of fabulous girly stuff!), but I wanted to get her something special to mark her and her daughter's (my godchild) move to their own place. K can easily cook for others (she made me a delicious breakfast) but doesn't really enjoy cooking for herself. What better gift then her own little stock of foodie presents, hand made with love and care by her best friend? Well, that's what I thought :-)

This is what I planned for my bunch of foodie treats:
- Roasted Peppers with Garlic
- Pear Cinnamon Jam
- Nutella Cupcakes
- Osso Buco

K loves roasted peppers. We have enjoyed this a number of times in Spanish restaurants around the city, so I thought of making her a bottle, to use as she pleased, anytime she got a hankering. It's pretty simple to make: Just roast some red peppers (capsicum) in the oven (I used around 1.8 kilos of peppers). When nice and soft, with their skin blistering and black in some places, remove from oven and peel (they're hot, careful). Slice into slivers of preferred thickness. Place in a bowl and mix in 3 tablespoons olive oil (I just eyeball this, put more, or less, as you see fit) and around 2 teaspoons crushed/minced garlic (again, adust this to your garlic-love quotient). Dont' they look luscious and fiery-red?

They taste pretty amazing too...these ones turned out to be incredibly sweet and just a tad garlic-y. Perfect. Now you can place them in jars which you may sterilize using your preferred sterilization method. I got 2 jars worth, with a little extra. So I had some leftover for myself...hooray! This goes great with a myriad of things, and complements so many dishes, that I cannot even begin to list them down. Here is K's bottle of peppers...

The next thing I wanted to make was jam. I had never made jam before (although my dad does, and his mango jam is too die for) but this seemed like the very thing that should be included in a housewarming bag of treats. I found the perfect recipe for me from Clotilde's wonderful Chocolate and Zucchini (the second blog I ever read and thus contributed greatly to sparking my interest in food blogs, along with Market Manila, my first ever blog discovery). I pretty much followed Clotilde's instructions to the letter, except I omitted the cacao nibs (as tempting as they sound, I am unable to find them here) and stuck a cinnamon stick in while cooking. Look at it...doesn't the mixture look "angry"?

Some observations from a first-time jam maker: I was shocked at the amount of liquid that was rendered. Whoa! Also, I kept simmering and simmering but it all seemed too runny. I went back and forth from the freezer to the stove top, ferrying the little frozen plate to check if my jam was set. It took quite a long time. When the droplet of jam finally seemed to hold itself on the frozen plate I said, "That's it, this is done, my neck hurts!" I was pleasantly surprised when everything magically fell into place and the jam set to a consistency of very viscous honey.

I was quite pleased with my first try at jam making. I think the cinnamon complemented, but did not overpower, the pears' taste. The jam was sweet and sticky and delicious. I also kept a bottle for myself (heehee) and have had it with my yogurt, as well as with cheese on yummy!

I also wanted to add a baked goody to the loot...enter Nutella Cupcakes! I have made this before with much success so I decided that an encore was in order, especially in the name of gift-giving! I'm not the only one who loves them either. Since this was a special occasion, I decided that it was only proper that the cupcakes have special outfits...check out the cute cupcake liners! (For those of you in Manila, I got them at the newly re-done SM across from Park Square in Makati. Check out their kitchen and baking stuff...a discovery!)

Last, but definitely not least, I needed something hearty to tie everything together and give my gift package some depth. Something comforting and savory. Something which K loves more than any other food item that comes out of my house. My mom's Osso Buco. This was my first attempt at my mom's signature dish so I was a little nervous. This isn't Osso Buco is the true sense of the dish because we use beef instead of veal. Veal is not as available here as it is elsewhere, and it's very expensive. Happily, my attempt turned out better than I expected (after much tweaking and mother is in New York right now, on her annual vacation from us, and was not available for consultation). I ladled the Osso Buco into a huge glass jar I bought especially for this purpose.

I'll be posting the recipe to follow as it is a bit more "involved". The picture's not too great and doesn't quite do it justice...

The dinner was tremendous fun, the kind you get when you have a group that just gels terrifically, imbibes good food and wine, shares endless bouts of roaring laughter, and has roller-coaster-ride conversations that go waaay into the night...

As for my gifts, K loved them, as she kept telling me days after! I see more food-as-gifts in my future?

Breakfast # 6: Oatmeal with Grated Apple

I love cereal-y foods of any kind (except cream of wheat...childhood trauma, and no, I did NOT want to include it in my Childhood Food Memories meme). As I also love breakfast , and the two get along famously, I am a happy camper. Oatmeal is a dish that never fails to comfort me, especially on a rainy morning (and a random rainy afternoon and rainy evening too!).

This is a version I got from Mireille Guiliano's book French Women Don't Get Fat. I know that this book has very mixed reviews. I wouldn't say it's for everyone. Anyhoo, I'm not going to go into a book review here. All I can say is this: It worked for me.

Ok, enough chat, let's get to breakfast. Mireille's recipe is called Grandma Louise's Oatmeal with Grated Apple. It is the one (and only) recipe I have tried from the book and I immediately loved it. It made my already beloved oatmeal even more scrumptious. The apple flavor is subtly infused into the oatmeal and, although it does soften during cooking, it still maintains a tiny crunch which complements the creaminess on the oatmeal perfectly. I have added walnuts to the recipe because: 1. I like them, & 2. I like them. The nuttiness give this dish another dimension and, I think, rounds everything up nicely. I also like topping it with muscovado sugar...I like the dark caramel-y flavor it lends the oatmeal. Plus, I love the way it immediately starts to dissolve into shiny, dark-brown pools of syrup once sprinkled on the warm oats...

Oatmeal with Grated Apple
(from French Women Don't Get Fat with a little additions from me)

- 100 grams old-fashioned oatmeal
- 600 ml water
- a pinch of salt
- 1 medium apple, coarsely grated (use your favorite kind)
- 1/4 - 1/3 cup walnuts, broken up with your hands (I just eyeball it, if it looks nutty enough for you than stop at 1/4 cup), plus a few pieces for your topping
- 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
- 80 ml milk (I use full fat...always)
- 1/2 teaspoon butter
- muscovado sugar for topping

Here's what you do:

- In a saucepan, mix and bring to a boil the oatmeal, water, and salt.
- Add the apple, walnuts, and lemon juice and cook until oatmeal is done, stirring occasionally (Mireille says to cook it for 5 minutes, but I think that's too short for old fashioned oats. In any case, mine were not done in 5...I think it took around 10 minutes or so).
- Add the milk and butter, give it a few stirs, and take it of the heat.
- Serve immediately with a little-more-than-a-sprinkle (c'mon, be generous, it's breakfast!) of muscovado sugar and some walnuts to top it off.

Note: Where I live, there are more hot, steamy mornings than cold, gloomy ones, so I have actually learned to eat oatmeal cold...and like it too!

newsflash: Nupur at One Hot Stove has posted another scrumptious way to serve up oatmeal called Sunshine Oatmeal (the name itself already sounds so tempting)...take a look!