Sticky Buns...Do I Dare?

Guess what! C’mon…look around. Is anything new? I’m sure you can figure it out :) Ok, here’s a clue – see the super-cool logo above? What about the matching one on my sidebar? Yes, by jove it’s true…I’ve gone and become a Daring Baker!

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I got the email inviting me to join this band of culinary swashbucklers who have been forging a brave path through baking fears and challenges; tucking such tricky things as Crepe Cake, Gâteau St. Honoré, Bagels, Strawberry Mirror Cake, and Croissants, under their collective belt with panache and finesse. Could I really become one of them? Oh I hope so!

With more than a fair share of nervousness I waited for my first challenge, silently praying that it wouldn’t be in the Gâteau St. Honoré family…not for the first, please patron saint of baking! So I was happy and more than a bit relieved when I found out that this month’s challenge was…Cinnamon and/or Sticky Buns. Not that I had much experience doing that either!

The host of this round, and chooser of this challenge, is Marce of Pip in the City. You can check out the original recipe (for both the cinnamon buns and the sticky buns, each with its own topping) here.

So on with the challenge! Like ever newbie, ridiculously thrilled and shaking in her strappy sandals and flowered apron, I printed out the recipe and industriously read it over and over. I bought everything I needed, stocked in my little kitchen, ready for the blessed event of bun-making. I decided to make just the sticky buns, partly because with only C and I here I knew we couldn’t handle (eating-wise) a deluge of buns, and partly because I wanted to keep it nice and simple for my first challenge. There would be no overextending and pulling of any ligaments even before I was out of the starting gate! The only modification I made (which was one of the allowed modifications) was to substitute the raisins in the sticky bun topping to dried figs…leftover from my SHF cookies.

Like all yeasted recipes, lots of “waiting time” comes into play what with the first-rise and second-rise, but aside from that everything went pretty smoothly. From the feedback I was reading from the other Daring Bakers (yes, there’s a whole support network of bakers who can virtually hold your hand while you bake!), it seemed that everything was going well: recipe straightforward, dough a dream to work with, and buns absolutely delicious.

Same for me. Well, except for a tricky moment with the dough.

Like everyone was saying, my dough was also amazingly soft and pillowy. But it was too soft. So soft that when I rolled it up and cut it, I had to re-roll my buns because, soft as the dough was, I could not for the life of me get even close to a semblance of a tight roll. But I needn’t have worried because they came out gorgeously sweet and sticky! I quickly dispatched some off to my best friend, my mother, and my brother, who all gave it the stamp of approval (my mother’s only comment though was that it was a bit too sweet but trust me, she says that about everything). C liked it too!

These were my kind of buns. The bun itself was really soft, the glaze a sticky-sweet glue the clung to the buns and gently permeated parts of it. And I loved the figs! Sorry raisins, but I don’t think we will be seeing you for as while ;)

Whew! First challenge tucked under my belt. Perhaps not with as much panache and finesse as I had hoped, but give me time and let’s see what else I will dare to do :)

Now go check out the Daring Bakers Blogroll for a load of fantastic buns!

HHDD #15: Tartes Tatins of Caramelized Red Onion and Goat’s Cheese

For every round of Hay Hay it's Donna Day!, I have tried to stick, not only to the theme, but also to the whole DonnaHayness of it all. Not that you have to. Technically, you can use either the recipe posted by the host, and tweak and twiddle to your liking, or you can go with your own recipe (from wherever you want) that still is within the theme. But no, like the mad DonnaFan that I am I always have pretty much stuck with her recipes.

But not this round. Oi. It feels almost like a betrayal. I’m so sorry Donna! There is no logical reason why my eyes wandered. I know you have so many tart recipes for me to choose from (asparagus and ricotta tarts, Donna Hay Magazine, issue 29; a whole feature on light + crisp spring tarts, Donna Hay Magazine, issue 23 – fabulous!; a whole pies + tarts section in Modern Classic 1, eggplant and potato tarts, Entertaining, p. 95; goat’s cheese tarts, Instant Entertaining, p. 66; leek and ricotta tarts, Instant Entertaining, p. 94), and a number of them actually onion tarts (onion tart with sage, The New Cook, p.73; caramelized onion and anchovy tarts, Donna Hay Magazine, issue 34; onion, anchovy, and olive tarts, Modern Classic 1). And those are only savory tarts…don’t even get me started on all the sweet ones!

So why, oh why, did my attention turn to…Gordon Ramsay??? And no, it wasn’t his legendary charm, blazing sex appeal, and kindly manner.

It was his tartes tatins -- the allure of the “upside-down preparation” coupled with the undeniable sexiness of a French name.

Tartes Tatins of Caramelized Red Onion and Goat’s Cheese
(adapted from Gordon Ramsay’s recipe in Delicious magazine, November 2006 issue)

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 750 grams red onions
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 150 grams goat’s cheese
  • 1 sheet ready rolled puff pastry
  • A couple of thyme sprigs

- Slice the onions into thin half-moons.
- Heat oil in a pan and add onions. Cook slowly, stirring so onions do not burn, until they start to get soft and caramelized. Add balsamic vinegar and thyme sprigs (saving some for garnish) and stir until the vinegar has mellowed.
- Divide onions between the holes of a 12-hole muffin pan. Top each hole with goat’s cheese (saving some for garnish).
- Thaw puff pastry (in the package it says thaw for 5 minutes, in my hot kitchen it took less then a minute…so watch it!) and cut out discs that will fit snugly over the filling in the muffin pan.
- Place pastry discs in the muffin holes and press down firmly.
- Bake in a 200C oven for about 10 minutes or until pastry is crisp and golden. Remove from oven and stand for 5 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack. Top with remaining goat’s cheese and thyme leaves.

The balsamic vinegar was my addition and I used regular muffin pans while Gordon used mini ones. I also increased the recipe accordingly to fit the bigger size. This was my first time to use ready-made puff pastry and I was quite excited. I must have been a little too excited though because, as you can tell in the photo, it is tad pale and not the golden brown that I was hoping it would be. Criminy. Was that my karma for forgoing Donna for Gordon? I hope not! I’ll just cook it longer (or hotter) next time…and despite the paleness of the pastry the tarts were a success at the small dinner we had last night.

Don’t forget to check the round up of tart creations at Trinigourmet, where our lovely host Sarina is hosting this round of Hay Hay it’s Donna Day!

And Donna: you know I still love you best :)

WTSIM: Ensaladang Labanos / Radish Pickle

In C’s mom’s kitchen there is a huge basket filled to bursting with all kinds of vinegars, sauces, spreads, pickles, spice oils, and like-minded potions. And that is just on the table…there is still more on the shelves and, for those needing refrigeration, in the fridge. This is how C grew up, surrounded by what he likes to call “pampaganang espesyal”.

Pampaganang Espesyal – How do I translate this? When you refer to a “pampagana” in Filipino cooking/eating, this usually means some sort of condiment or ingredient that that is taken with a dish, complementing it marvelously, as such giving you a sudden burst of raging appetite, making you consume 3X more than you normally would. For example: when you put your favorite hot sauce on pizza…or when you have a really yummy mango pickle (be still my heart!) to go with your curry. You want more curry so you can have more mango pickle. Or is that that you want more mango pickle so you can have more curry? We don’t know. Bottom line is, you can’t stop. Pampagana. And “espesyal”? That is just C trying to Filipino-slangify “special”. Basically “pampaganang espesyal” is a really special something that complements your food so well, and elevates it to new heights, that it gives you eating powers beyond what you dreamed possible.

Some of the best pampagana in my book are those that are home made – things like atsara (a local pickle made with unripe papaya), chutneys, chili mixes like sambal (thank you Nens!), tzaziki with extra think yogurt, fried onions, fruit and veggie pickles…these are some of the things with the power to make me behave like a ravenous beast. And C even more so!

So it was a happy surprise when I saw that Johanna, The Passionate Cook and host of this round of “Waiter! There’s something in my…”, chose Savoury Preserves as this month’s theme. Not only do I get to prepare what has become a favorite pampaganang espesyal, but I also get to look forward to a whole round up that I know will be filled with even more pampaganang espesyal!

And I get to post about what I did with that radish

Ensaladang Labanos / Radish Salad or Radish Pickle
  • 2 radish (about 300 grams total)
  • 5-6 small native sibuyas (or shallots)
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • 2-3 teaspoons sugar
  • Freshly cracked black pepper

- Peel the radish and slice widthways into very thin rounds. As thin as you can get them. If you have a mandolin this would a perfect time to use it. If you don’t (like me) then hum to yourself and think happy thoughts and you will be done before you know it. Now do the same thing with the shallots.
- Place the radish slices in a bowl and add shallots, vinegar, sugar, and pepper. Toss to coat and taste for seasoning. Adjust seasoning if needed.
- Press everything into a glass jar*** and let it rest in the refrigerator overnight before consuming.

This is good with grilled meats, fish, or chicken. It’s also great with pan-fried pork chops or fried fish. I like it with adobo, and it will most likely go with any dish with which you would have atsara. For someone who does not really like dill or sweet pickles, I love all other kinds…and this one is no exception. Its sweet, acidic tang, and crunchy texture is scarily addicting, and C and I can finish almost one jar in a sitting. Pampagana!

***I clean my jars in very hot water and let dry upside down on a clean tea towel. I store this in the fridge and it is consumed very quickly.

SHF #35: Fig and Honey Cookies


On the whole I am madly in love with living in the tropics. I love tropical fruits (sinfully sweet and sticky), brilliant sunshine, and wearing flip-flops. I love not having to think about bringing a jacket (unless you are watching a movie…our theatres are glacial!) and owning an obscene amount of tank tops. And of course, there are the beaches. Beaches that will make you swim across shark-infested waters for (just like Leonardo did). Lying under the sun on a sandy beach, with a mango shake in one hand and a book in the other, tropical tunes playing in some pub a ways off, smelling my tanning gel doing its job, feeling gorgeously lazy…I live for moments like these.

But as is often the case, not everything is perfect in paradise. The heat can be oppressing, especially if you don’t actually live on that sandy beach but in the middle of an overcrowded city. You couldn’t find a cloudberry if your life depended on it. Snow is something you scrape off the side of your freezer. You cannot hide weight-gain behind winter’s fabulous coats. And…no fresh figs!***

For most of my life a fresh fig was just a beautiful photograph on the cover of a cookbook. A mythical temptation from faraway lands that I could only dream of but never taste...until one trip to Spain when I finally laid my lips on them. A divine moment! I will never forget the taste and I eagerly wait for the day when I can finally taste another.

This is why when I heard that the adorable Cream Puff, Ivonne, of Cream Puffs in Venice decided on The Beautiful Fig as the theme for this round of Sugar High Friday my reaction was a resounding “YES!”, as well as a piteous “oooh-noooo…”. You see, although Yvonne made sure to include dried figs in the ingredients, I knew that there would a round-up beyond my wildest fig imaginings and the closest I would get to those fresh fig creations would be to lick my laptop screen.

But still...I love figs, and I love Ivonne and her fantastic blog, and perhaps having my own figgy creation will help stave off the violent cravings I know are sure to ensue.

Fig and Honey Cookies
(From Yummy Magazine, September 2007 issue, page 46)

  • 1 + 3/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • A pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • A pinch of ground nutmeg
  • A pinch of ground cloves
  • 3/4 cups honey
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup dried figs, soaked in hot water and coarsely chopped
  • 1 + 1/3 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped

- Preheat oven to 350F. Line two cookie sheets with baking paper
- Sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, and spices. Set aside.
- In a saucepan, heat the honey and butter until the butter melts. Set aside.
- Meanwhile, in a bowl whisk the eggs. Pour in the honey mixture (once it’s cooled) and continue to whisk until blended. Stir in the dry ingredients. Lastly, add the figs and the walnuts and stir until just incorporated.
- Drop by teaspoonfuls on the prepared cookie sheets, spaced at least 1-inch apart. Bake in the oven for 8-12 minutes, or until the cookies are nicely browned and spring back when gently pressed. Transfer to cooling racks. Cool completely and store in airtight containers.

The smell of these cookies is tantalizingly spicy…brimming with cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. These spices are the perfect foil for the dried figs (now baked to a chewy deliciousness) and walnuts. They have a very “cookie-baking-mama meets mid-eastern mystique” kinda thing going on. The only thing puzzling is that these cookies turned out more like “cakies”. That is to say, their texture is much more like a cake than a cookie. In fact, C, who is not into sweets, and less into baking, actually commented on how they “didn’t feel like cookies”. Hmmm…I’m still trying to figure out what I did wrong although I followed the recipe exactly. No matter, they tasted good…nice and aromatic with chewy bit of figs and crunchy nuts all throughout :)

Yummy is a local food magazine that I enjoy. It’s only been around since March this year, and already it has become a fast favorite among the local food publications. I like its clean and modern styling, and interesting features/recipes that I feel responds to a new growing majority of independent home cooks. When I saw this recipe, I knew it was going to be my entry for this month’s SHF. Please check out Cream Puffs in Venice this Friday for the round up!

***Thinking more about this fact I wonder how hard it would be to grow figs here. It’s not as if they only grow in countries whose climates are our polar opposites. They thrive in the Mediterranean area with which we at least have the sunny-ness in common. Can’t anyone grow figs here? I’m sure it’s not impossible. If you know of someone who does please let me know!

Bicol Express - As much as we could in two days (part 2)

Our second day in Bicol dawned bright and early. Despite and action-packed first day, or perhaps because of it, we were raring to go. On the agenda was exploring Albay, another of the six provinces in the Bicol region.

We started off with a couple of “official” visits to the governor of Albay and the mayor of Legaspi City (the capital of Albay). I will not go into political discussion here as this blog is essentially where I relax. I will say though that these two fellows where brimming with plans, especially when it came to tourism and environment. They were more than accommodating and we even got some homemade pili treats from the mayor (a funny and laidback guy that one).

Driving away from the mayor’s house, we got a good view of the black sand beaches. The sand is made from the erosion of volcanic rock and is said to have healing qualities. True or not, I thought it was definitely a dramatic sight, although I know most of my peeps, being spoiled for choice with our gorgeous white sand beaches, would turn up their noses at black sand. Guys, don’t panic…it’s volcanic (not dirty)!

Next stop was Misibis, a new development on Cagraray Island just off the coast of Albay. Although it was an overcast day, we still enjoyed the windswept beaches and fantastic views of the Albay Gulf.

We headed back to Legaspi for lunch at the endearingly named Smalltalk Cafe. We installed ourselves in the cozy interior, ready to be fortified with a good meal…and more Bicol Express! Like the laing pizza at CWC, they also had their own contribution to fusion-y Bicolano dishes...laing pasta! I know, I know, but it was good! The laing was toned down a little so what you end up with is a lot creamier. The Bicol Express though was not as good as the one at Pepperland – but we still ate most of it, not wanting to let a Bicol Express moment pass us by.

After lunch we headed towards the Cagsawa Ruins, a famous Albay landmark from where you can get a picture perfect view of the ruined tower with Mayon Volcano in the background. We were unsure if we could make it because a super typhoon last December had devastated this area, dragging down volcanic rock and ashfall from the slopes of Mayon that pretty much buried and bulldozed everything in its path. A makeshift bridge has been set up over the rogue tributaries caused by the flood and landslides, but because it was raining when we went, we didn’t know if it would be passable. The destruction was heart-wrenching. But I couldn’t help but feel a poignant pride in my heart at the resiliency of the people as I saw, amid the black volcanic mess, a little girl renting out brightly colored umbrellas to tourists going to see the ruins. The stark contrast between the dark volcanic landscape and her cheery pink and blue umbrellas seemed a metaphor for so many things (both good and bad) in my country. Even as I type this I find myself a little bit weepy.

In any case, we were able to pass, and armed with that sweet little girl’s umbrellas we made our way across the bridge to Cagsawa Ruins. It’s always such a jolt when you see something for the first time before which you had only seen in pictures. And that’s how it was for me at Cagsawa. The familiar tower seemed to have been already recorded in my mind that upon seeing it I had the feeling of visiting and old friend. But wait, something was different. I squinted my eyes at the vista and finally realized what it was. Mayon Volcano wasn’t in the background.

Albay is home to many interesting sights, the pinnacle of which (no pun intended) is Mayon Volcano. An almost perfect cone, it is often (though not officially) referred to as a natural wonder of the world (also one of our most active volcanoes). I’m sure it would have been beyond impressive if only I had seen it! Mayon stayed under cloud cover our whole visit. They say that she never shows herself on your first visit – that was certainly the case for me. The most I got was a glimpse of a sliver of her perfect slope…sigh.

From Cagsawa Ruins we headed to Daraga, another municipality of Albay, to see Our Lady of the Gate Church with its gothic façade. The church at Daraga is the only one in the province built on a hill. To escape the wraths of the floods? Perhaps. Either way, sitting on a hill in its baroque splendor, it does make a pretty picture.

From here we went up Ligñon Hill where you can get gloriously sweeping views of Legaspi. You can also get a amazing view of Mayon Volcano…that is, if she isn’t shyly hiding behind her veil of clouds.

After this it was off to the market! And you can be sure I had been eagerly waiting for this stop. The Legaspi Satellite Market is chock-full of native finds…from all manners of pili products to fabulous bags that would retail for four times as much in a Manila mall…not to mention what it would go for overseas! We scoured the market and came away with a loads of things…not the least being the 2 kilos of fresh pili nuts (not processed) I have yet to experiment with! For processed pili nut goodies (very typical of the region and a must buy when you’re there) we went to Albay Central Pilinut Candy. We were told that this is where the best quality processed pili products were made. Not only were they delicious, they also offered a wide variety of pili preparations – from the regular caramelized pili, to chocolate covered ones and pili encased in yema and all sorts of things that would give any sweet tooth a field day. Plus they have great packaging (perfect for gifts)!

Loaded with all our purchases, legs aching (but a good kind of ache) from the walking about, we settled in for dinner at Mr. Crab, a relatively new restaurant in Legaspi City owned by the same people who own our hotel. The specialty here is obvious, but despite the huge bowl of delectable sweet chili crabs, we still went for the Bicol Express and laing. Like a worn out recording, we went on and on about our love for Bicol Express and laing, scraping the plate clean and badgering the waiters for extra rice.

With a full stomach we dragged ourselves off to bed to rest up for our early flight back to Manila the next morning. We had been on the go and on our feet for most of the weekend but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. K is the exact sort of person you want to be with on trips like this. Her love for travel and discovery, and willingness to go through discomfort for the sake of new experiences, plus her quick laugh and good humor, are everything you could want in a travel partner.

It may seem like we did a lot in Bicol but in truth this is the tip of the iceberg. There is still much in the region that we didn’t see – the beautiful beach at Caramoan, the beaches of Camarines Norte, the whale sharks in Donsol, the Masbate rodeos, surfing in Catanduanes and Daet, plus all the islands in between. AND, let’s not forget that we didn’t actually see Mayon Volcano in its entirety. Oh well, more reason to return :)

Bicol Express - As much as we could in two days (part 1)

Whew! What a weekend! Since we flew out in the wee hours of Saturday morning until we left Bicol yesterday (again in the wee hours), it was non-stop activities. K writes freelance for the in-flight magazine of our national carrier so we were toured around by the friendly folk of the Department of Tourism there.

Bicol is one of the 16 regions in the Philippines and is on the Southeastern tip of Luzon (Luzon is one of our 3 island groups. Manila, where I live, is also in Luzon. The other 2 island groups are the Visayas, where Boracay and Cebu are, and Mindanao, where Zamboanga is. Just to give you a little orientation…).

First stop - Camarines Sur, one of the 6 provinces in Bicol, to see the Camsur Watersports Complex (located in Pili) and its much-lauded cable park (built by their young and spirited governor, who also happens to be a wakeborader). Wakeboarders from all over have already flocked here to board in what is arguably the best cable park in the world (with the cheapest rates!). If you are a wakeboarder (or water-skier or wakeskater) this is definitely a place to visit. C used to wakeboard but I, regrettably, could not master a water sport (ok fine, any sport) to save my tush. So I just had their laing pizza which was absolutely delicious and made me forget all about my woe at not being a Billabong-babe!

Laing is a typical Bicolano dish make with dried gabi leaves (taro leaves) stewed in coconut milk (another very typical ingredient in Bicolano cuisine), and because it’s Bicol – home of the spiciest cuisine in our country – a bunch of chilies. The laing pizza is loaded with laing, then sprinkled with Bicol Express (another regional dish…more about this later), and topped with mozzarella cheese. This may sound beyond bizarre to some of you but it was GOOD. Just think of it as a, um, spicy spinach pizza.

After the laid-back, “life’s-a-beach”, vibe at the cable park, we headed to Naga City proper to witness the grand fluvial procession of the Peñafrancia Festival. No two activities could be more different. When we reached Naga things were already reaching a fever pitch. Devotees were flocking to the Naga Cathedral, and to every open space by the river, to watch Our Lady of Peñafrancia pass by en route to the Basilica Minore. Referred to by Bicolanos as Ina (mother), they come from all over (even out of the country!) to see her. A legion of long boats line up on the river to pull her barge. We were able to get a prime spot on a third floor balcony to watch. We stood there for 3 solid hours waiting, not daring to move lest we lose our precious vantage point. The soles of my feet were crying out in protest but still I held fast. The people below us by river had been standing there for much, much longer. Finally, we heard a series of kwitis (some kind of firework) sound off, signaling her arrival on the pagoda that would take her down the river towards us. The excitement in the crowds was palpable as we craned our necks to see, even though we all knew she was still too far away. At last the barge that carried her came into view, filled to the brim with people and devoted followers hanging off the sides. Everywhere you could see, people were enthusiastically waving white handkerchiefs and shouting Viva la Virgen!. Suddenly the soreness left my feet and the tiredness left my body. And to be totally honest, I felt the prickle of tears behind my eyes. It is one thing to have faith, and it is quite another to see it physically manifested in such magnitude, sweeping you up in a wave of emotion you have neither the wisdom nor experience to understand. To say I was moved would be an understatement.

Tired yet exhilarated, we made it back to our hotel (charmingly called Pepperland – we were in the region of chili peppers after all) at the end of the day, where the luxury of a hot shower, and an even hotter dinner, awaited us. We decided to have laing and Bicol Express – two dishes which seem to embody Bicolano cuisine. Laing I have already mentioned above. Bicol Express is a dish of pork and chilis (lots of them) stewed in coconut milk. What gives Bicol Express its distinct flavor (aside from the chilis) is balao, a shrimp fry mix similar to bagoong but with slightly bigger fry and less salty. Now, there is much debate over the origins of the dish and its name, but I will not get into that here. Suffice to say that we loved it and had it with every meal (except breakfast) and never grew tired of it. Personally, it would be very hard for me not to love Bicol Express as I already love its basic components – pork, chili, and coconut milk. Again, chili and coconut milk (coconut being a huge industry in the region) make their presence felt throughout Bicolano cuisine…and I am only too happy to partake.

That’s all for now! I’ll be posting about Day Two of our trip soon :) Do we finally get to see Mayon Volcano? Stay tuned!

Off to Bicol for the weekend!

I am off to Bicol for a weekend away with my best friend K! We’ll be visiting Albay (Legaspi City) and Naga City…yes, the same place C went for business not too long ago when he brought me back this wonderful stash of goodies. I’ll be sure to return the favor this weekend :)

I’m SO excited because:
- This will be my first time in Bicol…and I’m always excited to see places for the first time, especially cities and towns in the Philippines that I haven’t yet explored.
- We’ll be checking out the Peñafrancia Festival, the feast of Our Lady of Peñafrancia, the patroness of Bicol. I love festivals!
- We will also be visiting Linyon Hill, the Cagsawa Ruins, Daraga Church, and the black-sand beaches in Sto. Domingo…and I will finally see our perfect cone – Mayon Volcano!
- I’m sure there will be lots of delicious food to eat and delectable treats to bring home.
- Weekend jaunt with best girl friend = non-stop fun and adventure = fabulous times!

Now, what does the picture have to do with Bicol? Nothing really…although I’m sure they do have labanos (radish) over there. It's just a little hint of what I’ll be posting about soon!

Happy weekend everyone :)

Banana Bread


I never used to have too many bananas. I love bananas like I love almost all tropical fruit (mangoes topping the list). Before I was married my mother always bought a slightly underripe bunch and let it sit in a bowl in the dining room. My brother, who is a big fan of underripe bananas (gee, I wonder how many of those are out there?), can easily go through half the bunch before it ripens. That leaves the rest of us humans with half a bunch of bananas once they’re ripe, which was not much considering everyone in that house loved bananas…including the dogs who could smell them a mile away!

And that, my dear friends, did not leave much room for banana bread. If I wanted to make a loaf with the shockingly overripe bananas I knew would make the bread smell amazing, I had to do a little banana-surveillance to make sure that enough of them lasted until they reached such a state. No easy task. Especially as my favorite recipe used 3 cups of mashed bananas, roughly about 7 or 8 pieces.

Things have tilted a bit in favor of banana bread since I moved out. With only C and I to feed, and with C at work all day, food moves at a snail's pace through our pantry. Even if I buy the smallest bunch of bananas I can find, we will still end up with a couple slowly melting into an overripe stupor. Which was just the case a few days ago, with C eyeing the slowly deteriorating bananas warily as I promised to turn them into banana bread.

Because there were only 3 left, I couldn’t use my go-to recipe. Thanks to the internet though, I had a wealth of banana bread recipes at the tip of my fingers. One such recipe had already caught my eye. I had spotted it a while back at Café Fernando, a fantastic blog I had stumbled on when looking through HHDD sorbet entries. Cenk is based in Istanbul, Turkey (a place I dream of traveling to) and his blog is filled with gorgeous photos and delicious looking food. Suffice to say I became a fast fan, even more so when I found the banana bread recipe with this photo. Yes, I know, quite riveting if you are a Nutella fan!

The recipe comes from Elise of Simply Recipes, tried and true and passed on from friend to friend. And now it’s found its way to my table. It’s simple, delicious, and absurdly easy to make (one bowl, no mixer). It’s not too sweet, which makes it wickedly easy to eat it the way Cenk suggestsI’m sure you can guess how I’m having it right now!

Click here for the original recipe at Elise’s.

More banana bread/cake recipes I’ve bookmarked to try:

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup


I know we are supposed to be eating “by the seasons” and as much as able, I try to put this into practice. But I don’t have four seasons to play with. I have two – summer and rainy. Summer -- when everything is sweet and gorgeous, and Rainy (or "wet") -- when everything is um, wet and um, not so gorgeous. Right now, I can’t even tell…we are supposedly in “rainy” but there have been bouts of mysteriously scorching days. Sigh.

Well, this crazy weather can do what it wants and so will I. For now I’m declaring “autumn” in my flat – a season that I have always wanted. You may remember my jubilant discovery of butternut squash at a neighborhood market – like autumn, not something I bump into everyday, at least not in these parts. You may also remember, much more recently, my last post – where I declared my love for ham stock. This is where the two come together to make one powerful statement of a soup.

So here in my little corner of the Philippines, though all the leaves are not brown, and fall coats can not be worn, this is my autumnal declaration.

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

  • 1 small butternut squash (about 850 grams)
  • 2 1/2 cups ham stock
  • 50 grams bacon (I used Tyrolean bacon), chopped into small strips or cubes
  • Olive oil
  • A few sprigs of fresh thyme or a small pinch of dried thyme
  • 2 tablespoons cream
  • Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

- Cut squash in half, scrape out seeds, and place on a baking tray in a 200C oven. Roast for about 45 minutes or until soft.
- When squash is soft, scrape meat out of its skin into a bowl and add stock. Blitz with an immersion blender, or simply toss squash and stock into a blender or food processor and process. Add only half of the stock at first, and just keep adding until your reach the consistency you like.
- Heat a small amount of olive oil in a pot or sauce pan. Add bacon and sauté until just turning golden around the edges.
- Add squash/stock puree, thyme, and black pepper, and then cook slowly to let the flavors develop. Add salt if needed. Stir in cream towards the end of cooking.
- Serves 3 (serves 2 for dinner with an extra leftover serving for the next day’s lunch!). Can also serve 4 as a small first course.

This is inspired (in particular) by my longing for a full-blown, leaves-swirling, theatre-like autumn…and my love for squash soup (in general). The use of ham stock here is inspired by my favorite squash soup in town…which I always thought had the essence of something meaty and smoky in it. In any case this one had a taste all its own – the aromatic ham undertones bolstering the rustic soft-sweetness of the squash, all veiled in a gentle smokiness from the bacon. The thyme was the perfect complement to round everything out.

This is my kind of squash soup.

Now if only I could control the weather the same way…

I’m submitting this to Tami’s Second Annual Super Soup Challenge, an event she created in tribute to her mother. Check out her gorgeous blog Running With Tweezers for delicious recipes and fantastic food styling (she’s a 2-time Donna Day winner!)

Ham Stock

If I could have just one stock in my freezer it would be ham stock. In the face of storm, famine, emergency in-law dinners, or a surprise horde of hungry soccer-buddies, this is the stuff I would like to call on to make magic with plain pantry staples.

What you see in this photo is all you really need. Old ham bones + onions + bay leaf + black pepper. And water of course. You can add other aromatics, but really, if you’ve got good ham you will not need much. Chuck everything into a big pot and you will turn out a stock that will knock your socks off…along with the socks of every dish you add it to. Ham stock is earthy, intense, full-bodied. Unlike chicken (or beef or fish or vegetable) stock, you get this amazing layering of flavors – you taste the pork that it once was, and the ham it eventually matured into…and everything else in between, as it waited for that day when chemistry and nature would push its flavor to the peak it was meant to reach (much like wine and cheese).

I started making ham stock when my mother taught me to cook fabada, a Spanish bean stew sort of dish with chunks of pork and chorizo (I feel this dish is open to a lot of interpretation…which is a good thing). The basis of her recipe was her stock, which is made with Jamon Serrano bones. This stock added an incredible depth of toe-curling flavor to the fabada. And I realized it could rightfully do so for many other dishes.

Ham Stock
  • 800 grams ham bones (I use either all Jamon Serrano bones, or a mix of Jamon Serrano and Majestic ham (a wet-cured ham) bones)
  • 2 white onions, peeled and cut in quarters
  • 5 dried bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  • 4 1/2 liters water (this will depend on the ham bones you use…a saltier dry-cured ham may need more water, while a milder wet-cured ham might need less)

- Place everything in a stockpot over medium-high heat until it reaches a boil.
- When boiling, remove scum that settles on the surface and lower heat.
- Let simmer for 2 – 2.5 hours, continually removing any scum that surfaces, until flavorful (let your taste be your guide). Cooking time will also depend on the saltiness of the ham you use.
- When done, set aside bones***, strain stock, and store.
- Yields about 10 cups stock.

In this recipe I use a mixture of bones, as can you, depending on availability and cost. As you can imagine, Jamon Serrano bones are a bit pricier than a regular supermarket ham bone, but well worth it for the flavor you get. Also, the deli where I get it does not always have bones ready for me to purchase. What I do then is use a mix of Jamon Serrano bones and Majestic Ham bones (a local wet-cured ham which is also smoked). You can also substitute other ham bones but I find dry-cured to have more flavor so try to toss in a least some of that. You can learn more about the difference between dry-cured and wet-cured here.

If you have a favorite Spanish restaurant or deli that sells Jamon Serrano or Iberico, go to them now and charm them for their bones! It takes a lot of ham to get to the bone so reserve your’s now! While you’re at it, ask them for any odd bits of the ham (like the ends) that they can sell to you along with the bone. Put these in with the bones when you make you stock. You won’t regret it :)

***If you used Jamon Serrano bones for your stock, don’t toss them out when you’re done! It will still have its heady aroma. Pick all the bits of ham meat off the bones – be patient, it will all be worth it. If you used any odd ham chunks (like the ends/edges/whatever your deli guy tossed in with the bones), shred them and add to your pile of ham bits. Stick all the bits in a Ziploc bag and place in the freezer. Any time you want to add a little oomph to a dish just take the bag out, bang it against the counter, take bunch of frozen ham shards, thaw, and add to just about anything that you think will benefit from a robust ham aroma. When I make fabada, they go in the mix as well. You can add them to soups, stews, and even sautéed vegetables as I did with cabbage.

Whew! Such hoopla about ham stock…it must be the book I’m reading. If you like ham, or pork in general, check it out :)

Stayed tuned for what I made with this…and no, it wasn’t fabada!

back to school

One last thing: I have been awarded the Blogging Community Involvement Award by Jaden of Jaden's Steamy Kitchen! To be awarded with anything from Jaden is an honor! She is fabulous and a visit to her Steamy Kitchen will always leave you with a smile on your face...if not in stitches laughing! I know these bloggers have probably been awarded already but hey, they double deserve it, so I'm awarding this to: Brilynn of Jumbo Empanadas, Tanna of My Kitchen in Half Cups, Susan of Food Blogga, Paz of The Cooking Adventures of Chef Paz, and Meeta of What's For Lunch, Honey? :) (No pressures to pass this along...just wanted let you guys know that your involvement is appreciated!)