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 toast...so 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 worrying...my 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! Hmmm...do I see more food-as-gifts in my future?