A stopover in Hokkaido on the way to the flat

3 04 2013

YOU NEVER ever forget your first.

The first time I was out of the Philippines, my destination was Japan.  I went there to speak at a United Nations international conference for students.  I carried with me a speech – the original draft of which I still have – with the most appropriate and beautiful opening paragraph courtesy of my eldest brother.

I was 16 years old at the time.  I still vividly remember walking up to the rostrum, faced the crowd and saw that everybody had their headsets on (for real-time translation) to listen to me.  “Just like in the movies (when heads of state would meet just before a disaster strikes),” I told my surprisingly calm self.  I was confident enough not to bring with me the printout of my speech.  Back then, I had unwavering faith in my memory serving me right.  And for the five days leading to the speech, I had had sufficient practice delivering impromptu talks at all the primary schools, secondary schools and the Ministry of Education office that we visited.

I think I got thunderous applause.  But nothing was louder than the one I got after singing a capella before the program closed.  Mine was the only musical number they allowed in what was a strictly formal event.  It was a last-minute addition too.  The organizers asked me to sing after hearing me do so at one of the schools we had gone to.  I was later approached by an Austrian violinist who wanted to offer me a music scholarship in Europe.

Why am I suddenly waxing nostalgic?  And of Japan of all places?  I blame it on Cold Storage.  I blame it on them for setting up this “Hokkaido” gastronomic festival of sorts at the open area of the mall nearest my flat.

I didn’t go to Hokkaido during that trip to Japan.  I went to Tokyo and Yokohama.  But if what I remember of all the gustatory delights I had in those two cities could at least be a faint figment of what the country’s biggest island offers, then I am all for shopping to my heart’s content.

I scoured all the racks radar-locking at anything that resembled my favorite Japanese cookie, the Fujiya Chocochip Cookie Cocoa Country Ma’am.  Apparently, it doesn’t trace its roots to the island.

But it wasn’t any reason to fret.  I love Japanese curry (Hello, Coco Ichibanya!) and there were a lot of choices on offer – scallop, salmon, clam, and octopus.  I equally heart ramen, so this I got in all its broth variations – shio (salt), shoyu (soy sauce) and my all-time favorite miso (fermented soybean paste).  The closest I got to the chocolate chip cookie of my dreams was a box of sweet choco soft rusk.  And to top everything off – and to best end a day of nostalgia – was a tub of Hokkaido Ice Cream in Premium Vanilla.

This promotion runs until Friday this week.  And I can’t wait to go back tomorrow and stock up.

Hokkaido_00_Scallop_Curry

Scallop Curry

 

Hokkaido_01_Salmon_Curry

Salmon Curry

 

Hokkaido_02_Clam_Curry

Clam Curry

 

Hokkaido_03_Octopus_Curry

Octopus Curry

 

Hokkaido_04_Squid

These are squid stuffed with rice.

 

Hokkaido_05_Sweet_Choco_Soft_Rusk

Sweet Choco Soft Rusk

 

Hokkaido_06_Shoyu_Ramen

I got sold the instant I saw the tag line: “Only Hokkaido Taste”! This is the shoyu (soy sauce) ramen.

 

Hokkaido_07_Miso_Ramen

Miso Ramen

 

Hokkaido_08_Shio_Ramen

Shio (salt) Ramen and that cute Kid’s Ramen!

 

Hokkaido_09_Ice_Cream

There was only one freezer for the frozen delights. The tubs of ice cream each sells for S$ 9.30, and comes in chocolate, vanilla and strawberry.

 

Hokkaido_10_Ice_Cream

They were quite proud of the fact that only “Hokkaido milk” goes into the ice cream.

 

Hokkaido_11_Ice_Cream

Why settle for vanilla when there is PREMIUM vanilla?! This was the one I got!

Copyright © 2013 by eNTeNG  c”,)™©’s  MunchTime™©.  All rights reserved





La Vita è Bella

10 12 2012
Italian Lunch - Group 04 THANKS Original

The writing on the paper says it all.

MAKING PASTA for Italians is like hitting your head with the biggest rock you picked up on a leisurely stroll on Orchard Turn.  It sounds like a recipe for disaster but you do it just the same,

Not one to back down from a self-imposed challenge, I, along with Kiddo, whipped up an Italian lunch of pasta and risotto for our four dear Italian compadres Michele, Paolo, Claudio and Michele last Saturday.  (Yes, two Micheles.)

We intended to hit a home run – or, going by Italy’s favorite sport – make a goal, so we asked (okay, more like forced) Claudio if we could have the lunch at his place.  I thought, it could’ve at least imbibed by now the essence of the Italian spirit – the flavors borne on the sun-kissed Mediterranean, smacked with the temperament that can only come from the boot-shaped peninsula and the islands of Sardinia and Sicily where the Eurasian Plate and the African Plate meet.

If everything went well, I could charge it to the golden green extra virgin olive oil and the perfumed goodness of basil.  If from the initial sizzle created by garlic hitting hot oil everything went downhill, I would allude to the considerable seismic activity, characteristic of the country, which could wreak havoc on even the best-laid plans.

The planned menu reads prettily on paper and speaks boldness on the part of two Asians who for the most part could’ve just very well been tinkering with one of the most recognizable cuisines in the world.

TheBrenDarryl (recipe here) – Australian Baby Wild Arugula Salad with sliced Green New Zealand Granny Smith Apple and Green Argentinian Pear, topped with shaved Parmesan Cheese and served with pan-grilled honey-glazed Prawns on the side, in my now-signature Honey–Calamansi Dressing.

Angel Hair Pomodoro (recipes here)

Farfalle alla Genovese (recipe here or here)

Risotto Zafferano (recipe by Kiddo)

To start the meal, we passed around a loaf of ciabatta from a “Milano” bakeshop in Takashimaya, and for dessert, we couldn’t have gone more traditional and Christmas-y than with panettone which I sliced and served with three kinds of gelatocrème brûlée, coffee and vanilla.  Three bottles of red wine were popped through the course of the meal, their origins being a veritable testament to globalization – one came from Chile, another from Australia, and the third one from France.

The day started quite early as Kiddo, Claudio and I agreed to do the groceries at the Cold Storage at Takashimaya the morning of.  What was initially planned to be a dash-and-go turned out to be a surprise gathering as we bumped into Paolo (there for groceries) and Michele (there for breakfast and some takeaway bread).

Italian Lunch - Group 05 Cold Storage

What did you know. We first bumped into Paolo. Then on the way out, we saw Michele.

 

Italian Lunch - Group 06 Cold Storage

Michele says HI to the camera!

 

Italian Lunch - Group 07 Cold Storage

Now, let’s try a proper photo. Hehe.

Together, we took that leisurely stroll back to their serviced apartment and I kept my eyes wide open for the biggest rock I could pick up and hit my head with.  Haha!

Italian Lunch - Apartment 00 Chandelier

I fell in love with the lobby of their apartment from the first time I saw it. The chandeliers are nice. Simple lines, wrought iron work, and individual lights that evoke images of votives. Like sending prayers to heaven.

 

Italian Lunch - Apartment 01 Ceiling

Lovin’ the high ceiling and the skeleton globes.

 

Italian Lunch - Apartment 02 Lobby

The place is all dressed up for Christmas already. I love that tree.

 

Italian Lunch - Apartment 03 The West Wing

A part of me expected Martin Sheen to show up at some point.

Once there, Kiddo and I proceeded with all the prep work – peeling, cutting, and slicing – while at the same time turning on all four burners to heat pots and pans, some of which had to be borrowed from Paolo’s and Michele’s places.

Italian Lunch - Solo 01 Cooking

Whenever I cook at other people’s places, I always get this kind of shot. How does this happen? Someone calls out for you, you turn around to acknowledge, then the shutter is set off. I like this one.

 

Italian Lunch - Food 00 Ingredients

First thing I always do regardless of where I’m cooking is lay down all the ingredients. I pick what I need as I move along with the cooking. The steaks were for Paolo as he doesn’t eat seafood.

 

Italian Lunch - Food 01 Mushroom Ragout

The mushroom ragout for the Farfalle alla Genovese is done. The two pots on the left are water for the pasta – one for the farfalle, one for the angel hair.

 

Italian Lunch - Food 03

The food has landed on the table!

 

Italian Lunch - Food 06 Risotto Zafferano

Kiddo’s Risotto Zafferano

 

Italian Lunch - Food 05 Angel Hair Pomodoro

Angel Hair Pomodoro, made with only fresh tomatoes. In deference to Claudio’s sensitivity to “uncooked” cheese, I didn’t sprinkle parmesan cheese on top.

 

Italian Lunch - Food 02 Farfalle alla Genovese

Farfalle alla Genovese

 

Italian Lunch - Food 07 French Red Wine

The third bottle of red wine that was opened was French.

 

Italian Lunch - Food 08 French Red Wine

I loved how the label verbiage described the wine. “The wine is expressive and full-bodied yet unpretentious…” Could’ve been describing a person. Haha! Michele did a fine job reading the description in French.

 

Italian Lunch - Group 08 Lunch

I think lunch went okay. Haha!

More than anything, Kiddo and I wanted to keep the time as much as possible.  It would be a shame to keep guests waiting.  When the clock hit 1:00 PM – the appointed time on our invitation – I closed my eyes for one brief moment and imagined in my head the voice of Padma Lakshmi saying, “Hands up!  Utensils down!”  This meant slashing the salad off of the menu simply because I had yet to assemble the individual plates.

We sat down like one big happy family, expressed our appreciation for the food we were about to share, and just dug in.  Before we were about to finish, Michele and Claudio started asking for the speeches from “the chefs.”  I kept glancing at Kiddo and kept making sheepish grins thinking those would get me off the hook.  But our guests were serious about wanting to hear speeches.  Claudio, having already heard me deliver one at an office event, just wouldn’t let me get away with it scot-free.  I had to speak.

So with an iPhone5 trained at my countenance, I spoke.  It’s always just a good thing to keep on remembering the two lessons (among countless others) from my childhood that have never left me:  I was raised to never talk to strangers.  And to never ever be afraid to express how I feel (in my heart) and what I think (in my head).  So I spoke.  I had to.  I couldn’t put up with pretending not wanting to speak my mind.  Hehe.

Eventually, the Italians responded with their own “speeches.”  The one thing I could never forget from what they said was that by sharing a meal with us – me, Kiddo, and our other Asian friends (Chin Eik, and then Shook Yee, were there too) – they actually express their respect for us and their willingness to be our friends.  I paraphrased but that was essentially it.

After lunch was cleared, it was time to move on to a more pressing concern – to learn to play mahjong.  While Shook Yee, Chin Eik and Kiddo coached Michele, Paolo, Claudio and Michele, I proceeded with preparing the dessert course.  The panettone and gelato were store-bought (Cold Storage Specialty) but they didn’t have to be served looking like they did.  So I reached for Claudio’s pristine bone china pieces from the cupboard, set on each a thinly sliced wedge of panettone, and three rustic scoops of gelato, one each for the crème brûlée, coffee and vanilla.

Italian Lunch - Group 00 Mahjong

For most of us, it was time to learn mahjong! Chin Eik, Paolo, the very lovely Shook Yee, Michele, eNTeNG and Kia Leh (Kiddo).

 

Italian Lunch - Group 09 Mahjong

Soon enough, the Italians were making a killing at the game. Haha!

 

Italian Lunch - Friends 00 Claudio Michele

Michele and Claudio celebrate a win by singing Queen’s “We Are The Champions”. Haha!

 

Italian Lunch - Mahjong 00 Fave Tiles

My favorite mahjong tiles

 

Italian Lunch - Mahjong 01 Almost Win

An almost win for me

 

Italian Lunch - Mahjong 02 Win

Finally, a win for me!

 

Italian Lunch - Mahjong 03 Cheat Sheet

We had a cheat sheet written on the mahjong paper, courtesy of either Shook Yee, Chin Eik, or Kiddo.

 

Italian Lunch - Food 09 Panettone

Panettone, the traditional Italian Christmas cake, the dessert of choice courtesy of Claudio.

 

Italian Lunch - Food 10 Panettone with Gelato

Panettone with Gelato Three Ways, ready to be served.

 

Italian Lunch - Food 11 Panettone with Gelato

Each dessert portion is a thin slice of panettone, with a rustic melange of crème brûlée, coffee and vanilla gelato.

By the time each finished his or her share of cake and gelato, we looked at the leaderboard in shock and awe that one of the Italians, very new to the game, made us bite dust.  Paolo made an unprecedented three-win streak.  Michele (Kuya) chalked up two wins (celebrating one with a rendition of Queen’s “We Are The Champions” together with Claudio), as well as Chin Eik.  I don’t recall how the others fared.  But I do know that Shook Yee won the last game.  And somewhere in between, I walked away with a win too!  Haha!

We spent another hour talking about all things Italian – everybody in the guest list has been to Italy except me – before heading off to Takashimaya for dinner at The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf’s Beanstro.  Around past 11:00 PM, we went on our way back to their place for the final nightcap.

Italian Lunch - Group 05 Elevator

On the elevator ride down, on our way to Takashimaya for a little shopping, coffee, and dinner for me. Haha!

 

Italian Lunch - Food 12 Beanstro Menu

The BeanSTRO Menu

 

Italian Lunch - Group 02 CBTL Beanstro

The gang at BeanSTRO by CBTL at Takashimaya

 

Italian Lunch - Food 15 Beanstro Pasta

My Roast Chicken and Tomato Concasse Pasta

 

Italian Lunch - Food 16 Biscotti

We brought back some Almond-Chocolate Biscotti from CBTL.

Needless to say, on this third leisurely stroll on Orchard Turn done in the space of one fine day, I was hoping against hope to find the biggest rock to hit my head with.  What was my business making pasta for Italians?  Then I realized I needed not a reality check because in their kind words that peppered the day’s many conversations, I recognized gratitude, appreciation for effort beyond the fruition of perfection, and a tolerance for what one’s best can offer.

I can’t wait for the next get-together.

Italian Lunch - Solo 00 Christmas Tree

Of course I’ve got to have a photo by the Christmas Tree at the lobby.

 

Italian Lunch - Group 01 Christmas Tree

By the same Christmas Tree, here with Michele, Claudio, Shook Yee, and Kiddo.

 

Italian Lunch - Solo 02 Lobby

Anywhere there is a mirror. Haha!… As you can see, we had the lobby all to ourselves. This was one of the best late night conversations I have had in a long time.

Copyright © 2012 by eNTeNG  c”,)™©’s  MunchTime™©.  All rights reserved





Chicken afritada

9 10 2011

The perfect bell peppers in red, green and orange, from Cold Storage.

IT’S BEEN raining almost everyday here in Singapore that it’s starting to feel like Seattle.  I’ve been staying up really late into the night, losing sleep too.  So yeah, it’s like Seattle ‘round here.

But I’ve never been the type to sulk.  So what do I do in a situation like this?  I go to the kitchen and cook.  I swung the refrigerator door open and realized one thing – I’ve never been to the grocery for quite a while.

So one rainy early evening just off from work, I walked into Cold Storage, saw the most beautiful bell peppers I’ve ever seen – in a rainbow of red, green and orange – and knew exactly what I wanted to make.

These bell peppers were so beautiful I didn't want to cook them!

One of my serious comfort dishes is called chicken afritada.  They would always make it perfect back home in the Philippines.  And they know exactly what I truly love about it – the sauce and the bell peppers added just a mere couple of minutes before the flame is turned off.  I would spoon the sauce generously on to steaming hot white rice, and heap the bell peppers on top of it.  Instantly, it’s like having my favorite blanket wrapped around me on a chilly night.  I would be warm and comforted.

But it's inevitable that I'd cook with them because, after all, they inspired the evening's dish. Here are the bell peppers with the root aromatics garlic and onion, and some "washed" potatoes from Australia.

 

Bell peppers on the chopping block, I mean, board.

 

A tighter shot of these beauties.

 

Washed, with the stems, ribs and seeds taken out. These are good to go!

I think “afritada” is one of those words that don’t really translate to English.  But the dish chicken afritada can be easily described as a chicken stew with potatoes and bell peppers in tomato sauce.  It’s very Filipino, but I highly suspect it to be of Spanish provenance.

To make my chicken afritada, you will need chicken (wing, breast, thigh and leg parts), half a head of garlic, a large white onion, a 14.5-oz. can of Hunt’s diced tomatoes, three small cans of Hunt’s tomato sauce, potatoes, and bell peppers.  (Though the Flash would always tell people that I would keep to myself whenever I’m cooking, appearing not wanting to be bothered, it’s actually quite the opposite.  I fancy myself as the host of my own cooking show.  And the “garbage” bowl beside my chopping board is testament to the fact that I’ve seen a lot of Rachael Ray’s 30-Minute Meals.)

Start with a low flame and use a pot that is wider rather than deeper (which we don’t have a home).  Coat the bottom with a thin film of vegetable oil.  Sauté the (finely) minced garlic.  Doing a lot of chopping and prep work while already having something on the burner could pose quite a challenge.  Just make sure to keep an eye on the sauté and not allow the garlic to brown.

Sauté the garlic in a thin film of vegetable oil.

Add the large onion, finely diced.  Cover the pot for a short while to allow the onions to sweat, become translucent, release some of its natural sugars and become sweet.  Again, no browning!

Add the finely diced large white onion.

Once the garlic and onions have cooked down, make a well in the center.

The garlic and onion have cooked down. Make a well in the center to sear the chicken pieces.

Add the chicken pieces, skin side down, making sure to make only one layer.  I made a huge pot so I had to work in batches, searing the chicken as much as I could.

I realized we didn't have a wide-bottomed pot, so I had to work in batches, making sure that I would only have one layer of chicken at a time.

As you can see, the chicken let out a lot of its juices.

These are juicy chicken pieces.

Add a little water just enough to cover and bring it to a simmer.  Then, pour in the diced tomatoes.  (This is my own tweak to the recipe.  I want a chunky sauce, an homage to when this dish was made with only fresh tomatoes available).  At this point, I started with the steamed rice so that both would be ready at about the same time.

I'm partial to Hunt's and I love their diced tomatoes!

 

The diced tomatoes are in!

After the chicken has been simmering for about 10 minutes, add the quartered or halved potatoes and the tomato sauce.

Pour in the tomato sauce. I used a total of three small cans.

 

The potatoes I got were Australian, already perfectly washed, and with barely a skin on them. I thought about dunking them in as is, but since I was sharing the dish with my housemates and friends, I thought I'd peel them just to be sure.

 

The potatoes are peeled!

 

...Halved, then added to the pot!

Check the chicken and the potatoes for doneness.  Once the potatoes are fork tender (takes about 10 minutes or so), that’s the time you add in the bell peppers.  Adjust the seasoning if needed (probably just a pinch of salt).  Cover the pot and allow to simmer for at most five more minutes.  Nothing more!

The bell peppers are ready to be sliced into wedges.

 

These bell peppers breathe life and meaning to the fact that we eat with our eyes first.

 

Finally, the bell peppers are added!

The chicken afritada is now ready to hit the table!

Dinner is served!

 

What's not to love?

 

It's even better the day after it's made. And this shot was taken the day after!

 

This dish is inspiring me to cook more often.

 

 

Copyright © 2011 by eNTeNG  c”,)™©’s  MunchTime™©.  All rights reserved.