Lasang Pinoy 5: Pinoy Christmas Around the World

I come from a family of non-traditionalists. There was the Christmas that my mom vetoed a full blown tree for smaller "interpretations" of Christmas trees scattered around the house, to the year my maternal grandmother declared that we would celebrate Christmas Eve on the 23rd (so everyone would be free of in-law engagements). My entry for LP 5, graciously hosted by Mike of Lafang, is our December 23 Noche Buena (Christmas Eve gathering) spread.

This year, to offset our very un-traditional schedule, we had traditional Filipino food. Great timing for a Lasang Pinoy entry, don't you think? We started everything off with appetizers of crispy ukoy (fried shrimp patties) and a trio of spreads with rounds of melba toast. The spreads consisted of the following: my aunt's yummy adobo chicken liver pate (first time I tried it and what a pleasant surprise it was!), dulong (the tineist little fish, in olive oil with a little chili), and a chunky goat's cheese spread.

For the main event (second picture) we had vegetables and prawns in gata (coconut milk), a fork-tender and very flavorful beef kalitiran (a cut of beef...beef chuck I think) with potatoes (special recipe of my uncle's mother-in-law), and pancit (of course!). The super star of the night (as always) was the lechon (roast pig, first picture). We all waited eagerly as it was carved, greedily plucking up choice pieces of crispy skin...yum! My favorite parts are the skin and the much flavor. All of this was served with a huge bowl of white rice, everything washed down with copious amounts of wine.

On the dessert table was turon (my first ever Lasang Pinoy entry coincidentally enough, except this one was the traditional banana only variety), suman (sweet, sticky rice flavored with coconut and wrapped in banan leaves) with mango sauce, and a delicious choc-nut bundt cake (my aunt's great discovery).

After dessert we proceeded with the whole gift-opening ceremony, just as if it was really Christmas Eve (if you know my grandma, you would know that she is someone who makes her own rules about everything), with my ninong (godfather) taking charge for the gift distribution. Lot's of kisses and hugs and thank-you's ensued. More wine was imbibed.

As we were resting in the rosy after glow of gifts recieved, warm camaraderie, and lots of wine, we proceeded to pop open the Prosecco (an Italian sparkling wine), which my uncle insisted was our in-between drink. In between what you may ask? Why, in between dinner and midnight snack of course! Now this is one tradition that nobody passes aunt's rich hot chocolate with ensaymada. This year she added pinipig as a topping for the chocolate.

I have only posted about one of my Christmas meals. Ironically enough, the most un-traditional side of my family is the one that came up with the most traditional Filipino meal! However, I do think the other meals are defnitely worth mentioning (especially as they represent such a cultural diversity which I think is very common in how we Filipinos cook and eat), so here is a little summary...

Around the world this Christmas:

December 23 dinner - menu above.

December 24 dinner - Turkey and roast lamb with ALL the trimmings. My uncle (father's side) is famous for his turkey and stuffing. His stuffing changes every time he makes it and never fails to be fantastic. Because of him I never found out that you could buy stuffing in a box (!!!) until much later in life.

December 25 lunch - Paella, Fabada (Spanish bean stew with bacon slab and chorizo), grilled ribs, and sausages. Foie gras demi cuit (my aunt's amazing recipe) and various Spanish tapas for starters. Sangria for drinks.

December 25 dinner - Peking Duck dinner with C's family at Jade Garden. We started with century eggs (my fave!) and hot and sour soup. Moved on to stir fried beef, steamed fish, hot prawn salad, and of course, the duck. All served with salted fish fried rice.

I'm off to the beach tomorrow morning for our New Year's celebration. Yippee! As I sit here writing this, I am covered in self-tanner (my traditional prep work for any beach trip), with a warm glow in my tummy from all that food...wondering how the bikini will react to my Christmas weight gain. Oh well, I don't regret a moment or a morsel of it! I hope all of you had a wonderful Christmas!!! And all the best and brightest wishes for the New Year!!!

Homemade Christmas Gifts...oh my!

This is the first time I am making my own (hand made with much love if not expertise!) foodie Christmas gifts. I had been toying with the idea for some time now. I have made food gifts in the past, but these were all for individual persons, on individual occasions. I had the luxury of time to plan out personalized selections, excitedly including what I knew were favorites, expanding the selection as much as my imagination dictated. Christmas is a whole other affair. Multiple recipients, timing, and the logistics of it all daunted me. But all the inspiring posts out there about fabulous Christmas goodies straight out of the kitchen motivated me to go for it.

Also, this is the first Christmas C and I will be giving joint presents. Our little dry run for next year. So why not mark this first with another? Something which perhaps will lead to our very first Christmas tradition...and something which can be continued next year from our very own shared kitchen. Ok, warm and tingly moment there.

Moving right along, what to give? I decided on something I have already tried (no need to up the stress level unnecessarily)...these dark and decadent chocolate truffles. This is one of the first recipes I bookmarked from a food blog -- Truffes au Chocolat from Chocolate & Zucchini. Clotilde made these as Christmas presents back in 2003. She is an inspiration, and so here I am, 2 years later, trying to follow her talented Parisian footsteps. I am rolling some in unsweetened cocoa (as above) and others in crushed walnuts. I have merrily procured some gold tins, chocolate brown ribbon, white paper doilies, plastic sacks with a white lace design, and gold wire ties to package these little balls of chocolate goodness.

Good luck to me and Happy Holidays to everyone!!! Here's to a very merry Christmas with great food all around! :)

My Daily Bread

They say that there is nothing like baking your own bread. Nothing like the smell of it freshly baked, permeating your kitchen like a soft, stealthy blanket. Nothing like the ability it has to ease stress and calm your insides. Well, they say right. I have been putting off bread baking for a while...what with the yeasts, and risings, and proofings, and such. I was apprehensive...but also drawn to the very basic, almost primordial picture that bread baking was painting in my little noggin': Me, flour dusting my arms, massaging a lump of dough into a piece of heavenly comfort. So I embarked on a project called, um, "No buying bread!" Ok, more like an experiment. I would see how long I could go eating nothing but my own bread.

The breads you see here are my first attempts. The topmost picture being the very first product of this little experiment. It's The Essential White Loaf from Nigella Lawson's How To be A Domestic Goddess. I thought it may well do to start with something that had the word essential in it. Nigella said that I didn't have to put it in a loaf tin but could instead form it into any shape I wished. So I tried to go for a rustic looking round, but instead ended up with a lumpy alien spacecraft. No first whiff, my first bite, and it was all worth it. Worth the time spent waiting for the dough to rise, the steps taken to get to this essential loaf, even the efforts of keading (something that I have discovered I actually does calm your insides!). I know this is a comment from a total newbie breadmaker still in the honeymoon of it all, but I kept thinking as I bit into my first slice, "My bread, MY bread."

Here's the recipe:

The Essential White Loaf
(from Nigella Lawson’s How to Be a Domestic Goddess)

- 500 grams strong white bread flour (plus some for kneading)
- 1 sachet (7 grams) easy blend yeast or 15 grams fresh yeast (despite Nigella’s explicit warning against it I used active dried yeast, it’s all I had, and it still turned out ok)
- 1 tablespoon salt
- around 300 ml tap water or potato water (I used potato water)
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened

Here’s what you do:
- Put the flour, yeast, and salt in a bowl then add 200 ml of the water. As you add the water mix with a wooden spoon (or your hand). Add more water until it becomes a “shaggy mess” (I love that phrase! There are times, after a completely satisfactory wild night out, that you return home feeling exactly that way? Like an absolutely brilliant shaggy mess?). Now add the butter and mix in.
- Now start kneading (yey!) for at least 10 minutes. There may be a day, long into my bread future, when I may tire of pushing the heel of my hand into a mound of pliant dough over and over (thinking very deep thoughts), but until that day comes I won’t be using the dough hook.
- Add flour as needed (if the dough seems too sticky).
- When the dough is smooth and less sticky, form it into a ball and place it in a large oiled or buttered bowl, turning it once so the top is greased too. Cover loosely with cling film (or a tea towel) and leave to rise for an hour or so until doubled in bulk. You can also opt to give it a long cold rise in the fridge overnight.
- Once doubled in size, punch it down (another fun part!) and knead for just a tiny moment.
- Form the dough into what ever shape you want and place it on a baking sheet (or loaf tin) and once again cover loosely with cling film or a tea towel. Leave for 30 minutes or so until puffy again.
- Remove towel and dust lightly with flour. Place in a 220C oven and bake for 35 minutes.
- You know it’s ready when you rap on the underside and it sounds hollow.- When done, place on a rack and let it cool.

I suppose there are more expert recipes out there...stuff that come from bread bibles and such, but oh the ecstasy of eating fresh bread that was kneaded by these two hands. It tasted much heartier than store-bought, and less sweet as well. Now, you are probably wondering why the picture above (and the one above that) look suspiciously not white. That's because for my second attempt I used half white flour and half whole wheat (using the same recipe). Also delicious! The bread pictured in my last breakfast post (in which I alluded to my bread project) is Potato Bread, also from Nigella, and actually my favorite so soft and chewy!

So have I bought bread since I started? Nope. So far things are looking good and I am enjoying myself immensely. And I have only just used recipes from one book! There are tons out all the bread recipes I have been bookmarking from the food blog I haven't even ventured into starters (although I have gotten a lot of good tips from much-admired food bloggers)! This may be the start of something great...

Breakfast # 9: Cheese & Chorizo Omelet

The fastest way to a delicious breakfast? Simply combine three well-loved elements into one amazingly scrumptious yet wonderfully simple meal. Case in point: cheese, chorizo, and egg. Almost effortless...and absolutely satisfying. The bonus? The fillings in this omelet were all leftovers!

Yup, as many are very much aware of, egg dishes like omelets, scrambles, and frittatas are superb ways to resurrect leftovers. In this instance, I had leftover cheese and cold cuts which were begging not be left on the wayside. So I decided to whip them into the shape of one mighty fine breakfast.

I used two cheeses here: brie and manchego (Spanish sheep's milk cheese). Manchego cheese technically should come from sheep from the La Mancha region (where Don Quixote comes from). It is a firm, crumbly cheese with a nice sharp taste (sharpness depends on the length of time the cheese was cured). When pairing cheeses this way, like for an omelet or a pizza, I like to mix ones with contrasting this case, a mild, creamy brie, with a sharper, firmer manchego. The brie provides the oozy-melty factor, and the manchego packs the punch. If you want a stronger "punch" use one of the more, um, pungent cheeses instead. I didn't up the cheese ante though because: 1. They were leftovers, so I didn't have lots of choices, and 2. I still had the chorizo and did not want to overpower its taste.

Now on to the of my favorites: chorizo Pamplona. Pamplona is where you have the running of the bulls, during the fiesta of San Fermin. Ernest Hemingway wrote about it and now they have a street named after him in the city. So between the manchego and the pamplona it looks like I had a very literary breakfast!

Recipe is simple:

- 2 eggs
- 2 slices of brie
- 2 slices of queso manchego
- 4 slices of chorizo pamplona

Beat the eggs. Heat some olive oil in a pan. Pour in the eggs. Lay your cheese and your chorizo on top. When the egg is getting a tad firm, and the cheese is looking melty, fold, flip, and serve! If it behooves you, sprinkle with a bit of pimenton dulce (smoked, sweet, Spanish paprika).

Note: I know it looks like there's a lot of oil there. Between the olive oil, the cheese, and the chorizo spewing it's wonderful orange magic, you may have a bit of an excess. So if you really have to, just pat it with a paper towel or something. I chose to mop it all up with a piece of bread...and eat it.

Another note: That bread you see slyly positioned in the top of the picture is not just any's one of a series that I am baking. I'm trying to see how long I can go without having to buy bread...and so far it's going great!

Wedding Planning Weekend

This weekend I learned that one of the little pleasures (amidst the multitude tasks) of planning a beach wedding is..."onsite planning"! Our motley crew of C, my mom, his mom, and I, journeyed to the "site" to check out venues, food taste, and meet with our coordinator.

When I chose to have a beach wedding my only reason really was because I love the beach (and so does C). I didn't consider that the dirty work of planning the blessed event could ever involve anything other than the usual suspects of watching your budget bleed at the seams, agonizing over the politics of a guest list, and chasing suppliers about town. Well, how wrong was I? It apparently also involves splashing around the water as you wait for your next meeting, working on your tan after you wash off your trial make-up, and eating fresh seafood as you discuss your plans with the coordinator...both of you barefoot in bikinis and sarongs, her confidence as she masterfully presents her slides to your future mother-in-law putting all your worries to rest. And winding down for happy hour with buy-one-take-one rum cokes while watching C play a pick up game of beach soccer.

Pictured above is the tasty clam (halaan) soup we had while meeting with our very able coordinator. We held the meeting in a cabaƱa/hut in our swimmies, her Powerbook protected by a towel. C & I had just come in from a dip in the pristine waters, and our moms had just come back from a jaunt to the market (oooh, bonding!) with a sack full of these big clams. They also bought ginger, spring onions, sili pangsigang (long green chilis), and tomatoes. We had the resort toss it all together for us and they made this delicious hits-the-spot soup.

Halaan soup has this wonderfully intense "from-the-sea" taste that I love. I don't have a recipe, but you can find one from Sassy at Pinoy Cook, just click here.

Ok, now back to real life and that bleeding budget...