HHDD #23: Chai Spiced Yogurt

I am a yogurt fool. I have loved it pretty much since the first time I had a little supermarket-bought plastic tub. Since then, I’ve been going from brand to brand and type to type, discovering new and better varieties. A major high point (as would be for any yogurt lover I think) was trying Greek yogurt while working on a project in Greece. A creamier, more perfect yogurt I am hard pressed to find to this day. Although I am still a plain ride away from real Greek yogurt, I have come a long way since that first tub from the supermarket. I am happy to report that I have found two suppliers that sell wonderfully creamy natural yogurt – both from local dairy farms!

Aside from being a breakfast staple, baking ingredient, and quite the talented player in dips and dressings, yogurt also has the ability to comfort me during troubled times. Don’t get me wrong, chocolate is still number one in the fix-all department, but yogurt has its place in the medicine chest too. Whereas chocolate is more like a powerful happy-pill, yogurt is a soothing anaesthetic. It’s clean, fresh, light taste (and texture) is like a salve on my wounds...calming and quieting.

When the charming Bordeaux of Marita Says (love him and love his blog!) chose yogurt as the theme for this round of Hay Hay it’s Donna Day I was ecstatic! Flavor my own yogurt oh my! Many combinations went through my head and I had a few top choices planned but I, erm, missed the deadline :( Luckily Bordeaux (did you read my mind friend?) decided to extend it...so here I am with Chai Spiced Yogurt!

I know! I already did Chai Spiced Oatmeal (sheepish grin). What can I say? When I love something, I really love it :) (and this most likely won’t be the last “chai-spiced” dish I make)

Chai Spiced Yogurt
You can find the original recipe for Donna’s Mint Yogurt
  • 3 Tablespoons honey
  • 2 Tablespoons water
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 1 cardamom pod, bashed a bit
  • 1/4 – 1/2 of a cinnamon stick
  • 1 peppercorn
  • A thumbnail-size piece of ginger, peeled and bashed a bit
  • Dash of nutmeg
  • 1 cup chilled plain yogurt
  • 1 cup chilled cream
  • Pine nuts for topping

- Make the syrup by placing the honey and water, and all the spices in a small saucepan. Stir over low heat until small bubbles appear on the side. Remove from heat and let it “steep” for about 15 minutes.
- Beat the yogurt and cream together until light and creamy.
- When the syrup has cooled, beat into the yogurt/cream mixture.
- Spoon into individual cups and sprinkle some pine nuts to top. If it’s not sweet enough for you, you can also top with more honey.

This certainly took yogurt up to the next creamy level! It was quite dessert-like and, aside from on its own, would also make a fabulous topping for cakes and tarts. The yogurt I used is already creamy, so I’ll be using less cream (probably half) the next time I make this.

This is Bordeaux’s second time to host HHDD...he is a two time winner! And he hosted this round while travelling with no kitchen access! Bravo Bordeaux!!! :) Thank you for choosing a fantastic theme! Thanks also to Bron of Bron Marshall for captaining the HHDD ship! And big thanks to Barbara of Winos and Foodies, the HHDD creator who we all love! :)

Halloween Spider Cake

I couldn't let Halloween weekend come and go without posting a little something sweet for all you monster mashers out there. This Frosting Web cake from Country Living would be the perfect addition to any Halloween celebration. It keeps with the theme, but isn't too kid-like for an adult get-together. You can use any variety of layer cake for the base. The top and sides are then covered with chocolate glaze and melted white chocolate. Click here for the recipe and for instructions on creating the web.

Peking Duck Stock


Sometimes, life can be like a perfect dish – just the right ingredients, combined in just the right way, at just the right time. These are moments and experiences that seem like gustatory masterpieces, lovingly prepared by a brilliant master chef. These are the stuff dreams are made of…the stuff we spend time and effort and planning and countless star-wishing to achieve. And when we do finally achieve these pockets of perfection it is amazing.

Most of the time though, I think life is like leftovers. You do the best you can with what’s been dealt. That is not to say that most of the time we are just settling on what is lying around in the back of the fridge. Not at all! I think it’s more a process of taking what life puts in our path and, after assessing the situation, taking steps to make it not just bearable, but beautiful -- perhaps chopping it up into a tasty fried rice, or adding a dash of pimeton de la vera and caramelized onions, or even warming it with some cream and those dried herbs you brought back from France and covering it gently with puff pastry. Sometimes, like life, these dishes don’t always turn out the way you’d like. But sometimes, they turn out so much better than their parts…an edible example of how you can take things (food, situations, people, dreams) seemingly past their prime with nothing left to give, add a little something (heat, love, a new flavor, puff pastry) and have them emerge as if a goddess from the sea…gorgeous, delicious, renewed, surprising and captivating us all. Culinary reincarnation.

This is all part of my continuing mission to avoid food waste…sharing my leftovers-turned-meals and pushing myself to make the absolute best out of what is left behind!

I realize though, at least among my immediate sphere of existence, that part of our leftovers are those doggie-bags we take away from restaurants. Unless the contents are an absolute favorite, they most likely end up tossed after a couple of days in fridge-limbo. So on the road of culinary reincarnation, let’s not forget these stragglers.

Peking Duck Stock

  • The bones (the whole carcass including head) of 1 Peking Duck
  • 2 carrots, peeled and cut in half or thirds
  • 4 small red onions, peeled and cut in half
  • 3 stalks of lemongrass, white part only, bashed
  • 1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and bashed
  • 2 star anise
  • A few sprigs of parsley (I used curly and flat as that’s what I had)
  • A few stalks spring onions (I used about 3)
  • Whole black peppercorns (I used the whole sprig you see in the photo) + roughly the same amount Sichuan peppercorns
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons Shaoxing wine

- Place everything in a stockpot and cover with water. The water should reach about an inch over the duck.
- Bring to a boil and skim off any scum that appears. Reduce to a simmer and cover pot. Let the stock simmer gently for 2-3 hours.
- Uncover pot and simmer for about 30 minutes more to reduce stock. Taste and either adjust seasoning or reduce further to deepen flavor.
- Portion as you prefer and let cool. Use immediately or store in the fridge if you’ll be using it in a couple of days…if not, freeze for future enjoyment!

Do you doggie bag the carcass of your Peking Duck? You should! It is better off going home with you and making you this delicious stock than staying at the restaurant and perhaps getting tossed out in the dump (poor thing). Besides, you did pay for it! This stock is a perfect case of creating magic from what would appear to be beyond salvage. Aside from the flavor of the duck itself, you are getting all the wonderful aromas of the spices and sauces that go into making Peking Duck! The other aromatics I used were also things in the fridge that needed using up (so feel free to be flexible with them). This makes for a deeply savory stock that you can use in so many ways. I decided to keep it simple and use it as a base for a wonton soup. With some bok choy, chopped spring onions, and cilantro, this was an intensely satisfying dinner (especially since I was feeling sniffly when I had it).

When we have taken those seemingly odd bits life throws in our path, and with a little cleverness and some courageousness, transformed and wrenched success from them – well, I believe these are the stuff greatness is truly made of. If you don’t believe me, just check the history books (and don’t waste those Peking Duck bones!) ;)

Cakework at Dean & Deluca

I just stumbled upon this beautiful Cakework creation on Dean & Deluca's Web site. This lovely almond cake is filled with layers of vanilla cream and raspberry filling, wrapped in a chocolate casing, and topped with marzipan pears. It sounds wonderful! And, at $160, it's also quite a bargain! (That last part was sarcasm.)

Cakework, which like so many of my favorite bakeries, is based in San Francisco and are known for their unique, highly sculpted wedding cakes that not only look amazing, but also taste great. The fact that they can create a cake that is not only interesting to look at, but also delicious, is probably due to the fact that each cake is wrapped and decorated in chocolate instead of yucky fondant. Luckily, for all of us that live outside California, they'll deliver cakes to almost anywhere. Click here for more info or, to order their chocolate wrapped cake, visit Dean & Deluca's Web site.

Semi-Dried Tomato and Parmesan Bread in 5

Is it just me or is time flying by much too quickly these days? When did the days (and the months and the years) start whizzing past me at hyper-speed? When was it that life suddenly seemed pressed for time, bolting forward alarmingly while I struggle to keep pace?

Work, family, friends, hobbies, passions, dinner, breakfast, life...I scurry and scramble to make sure I clock in as much time needed for each one. Sometimes, I find myself gasping to catch up. Does this happen to you? Or am I just a slow life-runner?

When life moves too fast, I find it more effective to do the exact opposite of what my gut tells me. My instinct tells me, “hurry up!” but I hold my palm up firmly and say with conviction, “life, I am taking 5!

We all need a breather once in a while and there’s no shame, and you’re not hurting anyone, to go ahead and take it. I get to catch my breath, regroup, and then get back into the game with renewed vigour and inspiration. It can be anything from a whole day dedicated only to yourself, to a weekend away with your wingman – the important thing is to get off that ever-speeding treadmill and relaaaaax. We deserve it!

Now, not all of us have a whole weekend, or even a whole day, that we can spare. I know the feeling. But if you’ve got five minutes, have I got a lovely, soul-satisfying activity for you! Why don’t you make bread?

Bread??? Yes, you read right!

Most everyone has already discovered Zoe Francois and Jeff Hertzberg’s fantastic book, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. If you haven’t, go check it out now! Or check out their blog, or Zoe’s blog, if you need more prodding. In their book, they so graciously share with us their method of making (wonderful, boulangerie-looking) bread using only 5 minutes prep time (the rest being either proofing time, or daydreaming-about-what-you-are-going–to-do-with-the-dough time).

Not to say I don’t enjoy the long process of bread making, because I love the kneading and the waiting. Making bread helps me clear my head, not to mention the benefits of kneading for anger management! But, in these fast-forward times, it’s not always possible to go about bread making the long way (although I do recommend it when you can manage...it’s like a gym and a shrink rolled into one!). This artisan-in-5 dough, which (yes!) you put together in five minutes, will stay snugly in your fridge, ready at a moment’s notice, for when you want to use it.

The bread pictured here is a loaf of Sun-Dried Tomato and Parmesan Bread (from the book), which I put together in no time at all for a couple of friends who came over for drinks. I took some of the Master Boule Recipe dough out of the fridge, flattened it, sprinkled with my oven-roasted tomatoes and grated parmesan cheese, and that was that! A short wait while the oven pre-heated and the bread did a final proofing, and I was on my way to fresh bread that looked like it took hours to prepare! With the same dough (you just tear parts of it off the waiting blob in your fridge) we also made pizza and a regular boule.

There is nothing like pulling a crackly-crusted, miracle-smelling, gorgeous-looking loaf from your oven to make you feel like you have all the time in the world! When in reality, all you did was take 5 ;)

cuppacakes by +wondermilk

These gorgeous cupcakes are from Malaysia-based bakery cuppacakes by +wondermilk. There are so many beautiful cupcakes on their Web site that I had a hard time choosing which two to post! The fact that these cupcakes are so pleasing to the eye is not really surprising when you consider that the bakers behind cuppacakes are all trained graphic designers! Cuppacakes by +wondermilk is actually a design consultancy, a cupcake shop, and an art collective all in one! Unfortunately, the cuppacakes cafe is in Malaysia, so I don't think I'll be sampling these any time soon. If you live in Malaysia, check out their adorable store. Or, if you don't feel like leaving the house, call their cupcake delivery service! To view more of cuppacakes by +wondermilk's lovely creations, visit their Web site and click on the design gallery.

Pinakbet in a Palayok

One of my food resolutions is to learn how to cook Filipino food. My own cuisine has always been, to me, a secret world of family recipes that I never took the time to learn. Why try to learn how to make adobo and sinigang when somebody’s grandmother or mother or aunt has already spent years mastering it? Why not just enjoy these dishes at their tables and spend my cooking-energy learning something like how to make pasta and bread and French desserts?

Shamefully, I have fallen into the trap of familiarity-breeding-complacency when it comes to Filipino food. Obviously, it’s everywhere over here! And since this old comfort-blanket of dishes has kept me warm and safe quite successfully for all this time, I hesitate to weave my own version.

But nevertheless, I pull back my shoulders and put a tentative toe in the Filipino kitchen. I’ve already started making adobo – I have come quite far from my first attempt I’m happy to report. I’m still far from setting a recipe in stone as there are just so many things you can do with it! With the arrival of this bounty of vegetables though, pinakbet was the obvious choice.

Pinaktbet (or pakbet for short) is a very popular Filipino dish that hails from our Northern province of Ilocos***. Ilocos is a region with quite a distinct culinary profile, and some of its dishes, like pinakbet, have become popular all over the country. It is a vegetable dish that includes eggplant, ampalaya (bitter melon), okra, sitaw (long beans), chilli, tomatoes, ginger, fatty pork, and bagoong isda (their fish sauce). In some versions of pinakbet, squash is added – but I think this may be more a Southern move.

Another reason why I was so excited to make this dish, aside from the serendipity of having all the main ingredients delivered fresh to my doorstep, was my palayok. A palayok is our native clay pot used for cooking and I have had one for a couple of years now. It’s been sitting in my kitchen, longing to be used, but I’ve just never had the wherewithal to do so.

Well, it seems like fate had all the stars aligned for a pinakbet in a palayok and who am I to argue with culinary kismet? :)

No recipe yet, since I was just feeling my way around the dish (making kapa). But in a nutshell this is what I did:

Heat some oil in the (seasoned) palayok. Add chopped bagnet (this is the fatty pork I used). Add chopped garlic, onions, ginger, tomatoes – let reduce a bit. Add bagoong (I used bagoong alamang, shrimp paste, because I didn’t have any bagoong isda). Add in layers: chopped squash, ampalaya, sitaw, okra, eggplant, and chilli. If you want to get an idea of the quantities, take a look at this photo – I used all of the squash, ampalaya, okra, and eggplant, about half the sitaw, and one chilli. I added a little more bagoong on top of the vegetables and covered the pot. I let it cook for about 15-20 minutes total, checking on it every so often to make sure it wouldn’t burn. More than one source instructed me not to stir, but try as I might, I couldn’t manage the gentle palayok-shaking needed to toss the ingredients...so, sigh, I had to stir...which accounts for some of the mushiness of my vegetables.

Other than the veggies getting a bit smooshed by my stirring, I was quite pleased with the result! Not in the least because it actually tasted like pinakbet! It was very flavourful, and with a hot steaming scoop of rice, and some fried bangus (milkfish), made for a simple yet satisfying meal.

If you need more pinakbetspiration check Marvin’s post on finding his soul and Marketman’s Palayok Pinakbet!

I sense an all-new comfort blanket of Filipino dishes steadily in-the-weaving :)

***I’ve had the good fortune of visiting this lovely and delicious part of my country and you can take a peek here, here, here, and here, if you want to learn more :)

Little Circles of Heaven

When I started this Web site, my friend Nancy asked me if I was familiar with her chocolate chocolate chip cookies. When I replied that it wasn't ringing any bells, she said "ask Dean about them." Curious, I asked Dean if he remembered Nancy's cookies, thinking that there was no way he would still remember, considering that it was years ago. Here is his reply:

OMG. How could I ever forget those cookies. They were the absolute BEST!!! They were little circles of heaven.

After that endorsement, I knew that I had to have the recipe!

Here are the specifics. Straight from the source:

1 box Duncan Hines devil's food cake mix (yes, the brand does make a difference!)
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 stick butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup chocolate chips

I usually end up eating half the batch as they come out of the oven.

Mix it all together, bake in oven at 350 for 10-12 minutes. The cookies look wrinkly.

Also extremely tasty with peanut butter chips and, separately, teeny tiny marshmallows for smores cookies. I also like them with the standard chocolate chips and loads of shredded coconut.

Birthday Bounty

I am a big believer in finding happiness in the small stuff. I like looking for reasons to celebrate even when it may seem like there are none, and try my best to be grateful for even the littlest things that go my way. It doesn’t take much to entertain me either. And although I may not be the most sophisticated person you’ll meet, I’m hardly ever bored ;)

A birthday though is justifiable grounds for celebrating, and being happy, and being grateful. No small thing, birthdays! And just last Friday I celebrated my 34th :) This year, I opted for the quiet route...a regular day at work and dinner with my team-mate-for-life at our favourite sushi place. No rah-rah this year...but still grateful for many, many things.

Now, I would love to yammer on about everything I’m thankful for, but I still have extra work to finish, dinner to put on the table (adobo!), and another food shoot to plan***. So I’ll leave you with just one thing. A wonderful basket of organic produce delivered right on my birthday (a nice coincidence!)!

This vegetable bounty came from farm in Bulacan that practices sustainable organic farming. They deliver a weekly basket of whatever is ready for harvest. They also have native chickens (and their eggs), ducks, and geese. They have fruits trees as well, and you can order fruit when in season. And they have organic rice twice a year during rice harvest season. So far I’ve only tried their veggies but will be ordering their eggs as soon as they have some!

These vegetables were a delight, and a fanstastic “birthday gift” from nature. Bright green and crisp, they felt almost alive in my hands as I transferred them carefully out of their basket. My birthday bounty: a big bunch of lettuce, kang kong (water spinach), small talong (eggplant), okra, sitaw (long beans), ampalaya (bitter melon), a small bunch of pechay (pak choi...a kind of cabbage), mustasa (mustard greens), green cucumber, white cucumber, green chilis, half a squash, 2 small leeks, and 1 tiny green pepper that snuck in!

We’ve already eaten some of the lettuce, which had that snappy taste only very fresh lettuce has. I’ve also used a bit of the chilli. The green cucumber was super crunchy in our salad and I’ll use the rest of it for cucumber raita. The white cucumber is new to me and I’ll probably make another salad out of that – with vinegar and sugar and lots of black pepper. The challenge is the two veggies that I don’t eat very often – ampalaya (bitter melon) and okra...but because of them I now have a chance to try my hand at pinakbet for the first time!

Lovely organic produce delivered to my doorstep looking cheerful and perky in their little basket...the possibility of organic eggs from the same farm...the suspense of seeing what goodies the basket will hold...the fun of thinking up ways to prepare them...a perfect birthday gift in my book! :)

***If you missed my dishes published in Yummy Magazine in September, I’ll have more coming up soon! Will let you all know when :) Meanwhile, you can check out the breakfast dishes I’ve prepared in the Marie Claire October issue which also features (blush!!!) our little flat!

Mother Earth

A typhoon has found its way to my doorstep again. The sky is gloomy and the rain is steadily falling. Days like these call for hot soups, or hearty braises, or something roasted whole. We will go for the roast I think. A roast chicken dinner sounds just about right.

And hopefully there will be leftovers for me to use and post about!

Meanwhile (if there are leftovers...C loves roast chicken), I am bursting to share with you something we (I and a group of three other fabulous girls...Christine, Angela, and my best friend K!) have been working on for a while. It’s been so much fun and so satisfying planning this little project with them...now that it has actually come to fruition, and I can hold the tangible results in my two hands, the delight is immense!

Avoiding food waste is just one cause I am trying to champion in my own personal corner. The other has been avoiding plastic. Again, I am by no means a lean, green, eco-machine, but I do try to do all my shopping in reusable shopping bags***. You all know the tune I’m sure, and I’m not going to stand on a soapbox and talk about the evils of plastic. There are experts out there to do that and I wouldn’t want to get my numbers wrong. Suffice to say that by opting to tote our own shopping bags, we are helping our planet out of plastic’s evil clutches! :)

So it is with great pride and excitement that I present you with our Mother Earth bags!!! When Christine shared the idea with me I was all for it. Before we knew it things magically came together (as most good things do) and we found ourselves with the finished product sitting happily in front of us. I couldn’t be more thrilled with how everything worked out (and is still working out...we get more good news everyday!) :)

The bags are made in a livelihood centre that employs the elderly, disadvantaged women in a neighbouring city (D'Livelihood Shop in Taguig). So this venture helps these women earn their living, as well as helping our planet breathe easier :)

You can check out the different bags (with better pictures!) at our website. They’re available in Metro Manila only for now until we can sort out shipping. You can also find all sorts of interesting links there – from information about the threat plastic poses to our environment, to other eco-friendly products made locally.

One bag line is made of canvas and the other is made of recycled flour sacks. Yes, we’ve been badgering our favourite bakeries for more than just their cakes! ;) I’ve already taken both out for a spin and I can say (with no bias whatsoever, heehee!) that they perform commendably! They can both lug around quite a load :) Lots of space for all your shopping, boys and girls!

Hope you get the chance to take a peek at our site :) While you do, I'm off to roast that chicken...

***Aside from being kinder to the earth, reusable shopping bags look much nicer than plastic bags do. Plus, it is so much easier to carry three of these bags on your shoulders, than five plastic grocery bags with your hands. Trust me. I live on the third floor and my elevator is, uh, “charming” at best. I know what I’m talking about.