27 August 2008

Carrot Cake

Carrot Cake (with title)
"People do what they want to do. The rest is just excuses." - Maxine, Judging Amy

This is my 200th post. I started this blog May 31, 2007, and back then I had no idea I would ever make this much food. I thought I would be spending all my time designing and writing about life but somewhere along the way it got frappéd into the blog you see today (you should see the cakes I made... Fugalicious). This feels like a great milestone, made only slightly crappy by the fact that I haven't been performing too well in the kitchen lately (I think it's the rainclouds... They make me not want to photograph). So instead I'm going to talk to you about an important milestone in my life.

When I turned 24, I had begun living alone (recently being separated from my flatmates). Some people would probably go mad being incubated with all their 4-11PM thoughts by themselves, but I got to thinking about how I lived my life. I used to be completely obsessed with being respected, being noticed, and being loved (I like to think most young people are). And the GRADES. Man, getting a high grade was orgasmic, especially when they announce it in front of the entire class. Not only do you get respect, but when people turn to you like you're an authority, the feeling is just indescribable. Or maybe I just can't describe it accurately now because looking back it feels artificial and empty.

I don't know why I never realized back then that like all other things, popularity and recognition are ephemeral. You can't base your self-respect on them (castle on quicksand, that's what it is). I had to let people decide who they want to love without baiting them. I had to look inside myself to find a place that wasn't selfish. Changing your whole perspective on life isn't easy (or instant), but listening to the song above ("24" by Switchfoot) did help me to climb out of my rut, to bring the second man in me to life. It sounds maybe kind of corny, but the day I turned 24 was the day I shed the foolishness of youth and took my first clumsy steps to maturity.

Okay, so maybe it's not the best segue into raving about being recognized in a local magazine, but I do want to thank Wysgal of Rants and Raves for considering my blog "click-worthy" among Filipino food blogs. Me blushing.

The cover is Amanda Griffin, clearly creating publicity for her reality series, Amanda Griffin: It's Mucoid. No, I kid. How could you not love Amanda Griffin?

Among those featured are some of my friends, Joey of 80 Breakfasts and Marvin of Burnt Lumpia. W00t! I know w00t is like a lazy catch-all for all celebration, but I'm just incredibly flattered.

So let's have cake!

Carrot Cake adapted from Olive Magazine
I LOVE carrot cake. I've tried so many different versions already, but the fruity and non-nutted kind with sweet cream cheese frosting is my favorite. I actually have a few recipes of carrot cake sitting in my library, such as one from Maida Heatter, one from Jamie Oliver (GASP! I didn't use his recipe!), and one from Dan Lepard. But I ended up using this one from Olive magazine in the UK. I dunno, it looked pretty in the picture! Sue me! What results is a very straightforward carrot cake, but delicious nonetheless. Someday I might use the other recipes (they have additions such as allspice and cocoa-- that's new), but for now, let's stick with this basic that comes together in 2 minutes once you have your ingredients ready. This is a 6-inch cake, perfect for an intimate party or a quick bite.

  • 54g (6 tablespoons) canola or other neutral oil

  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature

  • 80g (1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon packed) brown sugar

  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

  • 72g (2-1/2 oz) carrots, finely grated (about 2 small ones)

  • 80g (4 tablespoons) crushed pineapple, drained and chopped fine

  • 108g (3/4 cup) all-purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 150°C (300°F). Spray a 6-inch round cake pan at least 2 inches high with baking spray. In a medium bowl, whisk together the oil and eggs vigorously, until well-emulsified. Add the brown sugar, cinnamon, salt, baking powder, baking soda and whisk until well-combined. Scatter the carrots and pineapple over the surface and whisk until well-combined. Sift the flour over the surface (a third of the flour at a time), and gently fold in each addition of flour with a spatula. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cream Cheese Frosting
  • 90g (3oz) cream cheese, at room temperature

  • 75g (3/4 cup) confectioner's sugar

  • 45g (3 tablespoons) butter, at room temperature

Beat together all the ingredients in a medium bowl until smooth. Pile high on top of the cake (you will have a tiny bit extra for all the sugar fiends) and smooth with a spatula.

20 August 2008

Chocolate Chip Cookies revisited

Chocolate Chip Cookies
Before I started blogging, the only things I ever really baked were these chocolate chip cookies. The recipe is the urban legend, a false copy of Mrs. Fields' recipe that was rather good anyway. Good enough for some of my friends to ask me to make big batches for Christmas for them to give away. They remind me of my friend, Ads, who at one time while we were hungrily waiting to leave the campus for a teaching excursion, gave me some pinwheel cookies that were surprisingly moist: my savior. I promised her these cookies in return after the Christmas break (hoping to knock her socks off). Mission accomplished.

Our surnames were close together so we hung out a fair bit, being the best friend of the girl here. There were times that we did fight (because I was a tight-assed leader and couldn't readjust her schedule for her birthday out of fear the world would fall apart-- stupid me). But I mostly remember the good times-- Karaoke, her being the only one to congratulate me for my first commissioned poster (well, I pulled her arm to see it), and eating at my first French Patisserie. The lot of us had ordered several petit gateaux, and I told her I was pretty sure the Opera was a classic gateau with a recipe out there (oh, the days before blogging!) and that one day, I'd make it and she'd be the first one to taste it. But my fear of messing it up (and baking in general) hindered me from getting off my ass to make it until several years later.

There are times when I'd see a girl with long hair who moves a certain way who I'd think might be Ads, and I'd get excited thinking about all the things I've made since and how Ads would be so proud. But I snap out of it and remember that they couldn't possibly be Ads. Two years ago this day, she passed away.

I was shuttling between Manila and Batangas (3 hours away south) for my stint in community medicine, so I was shocked to receive a text one weekend I came home that she had lapsed into a coma. And a few hours later, she was gone. There were a lot of regrets expressed, many fingers pointed, blame passed, anger burning between the interns, doctors, nurses, and hospital administration. I still remember the anguish of her parents, and how her father screamed at all of us.

I don't know why we ever thought we were so invulnerable. That somehow helping the sick gave us a karmic barrier. But she was only 23 (I was 24). Diseases that make children ill (and at the Philippine General Hospital, many children came in fulminating states) easily latch on to us (this is an assumption, by the way-- there was no conclusive evidence that she contracted a disease from the hospital in the first place). I don't know when we thought the machinery was more important than the components-- that keeping the service running smoothly was more important than her welfare. But Ads was worth than that-- if I only knew, if I could turn back time, if I'd seen her-- I wish I could have told her to make sure she's okay before she continued on. Everyone would understand if she missed work. In the end, she gave up her life instead, being the dedicated doctor she was until she couldn't any longer.

Sorry, I'm ranting. The anger isn't there anymore, but somehow it's revisited on this day.

15 August 2008


Tiramisu (with title)
I thought I'd be able to maintain a steady pace of posting something each Monday, but boy are your cycles FAST! I have to sync up so people won't think NSE has died!
Last May, Dr. Em wrote a post about a few suggestions on combating stress. I threw in my usual way of dealing with stress, and it made me really hungry for Tiramisu (you'll see why in a while). Though it isn't my way to compare my hardships or lack thereof with other people, I always thought I had it pretty difficult as a medical intern (you know, no sleep, no pay, no respect). Of course, I was comparing myself to my peers who were already deep in the 9-to-5 groove. But reading about other people's lives, like Jack here who recounts his experience at a frozen food company, I realize that there's still some things I could never handle, and you can never really know how difficult someone's job is unless you walk a mile in their boots (or they describe it really frighteningly well, as Jack did).

Not that I ever complained about how difficult my job was. I just say these things matter-of-factly. I always say, "As long as I'm not the person IN the bed, I don't have a right to complain." The ugly consequence, though, is there's always some people who'll say I have no right to appear stressed because my job isn't "as hard as theirs," and there are others who'll hate me because I don't appear as stressed as I "should be." Which is why I stopped caring about what people thought of me. I just do my job showing as little stress on my face as I can (they can go f*ck themselves for all I care). Here's a typical cycle in the most stressful (so most of us say) rotation: Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Day 1: Pre-Duty

  • 7:00-7:30AM Summary rounds. One hundred fifty students, residents, and consultants go over the cases that came in last night. Students in charge possibly humiliated.

  • 7:30-5:30 or 6:00PM Outpatient department. Your team looks at 80 new patients and 80+ follow-up prenatal check-ups. For each patient, you handle the interview, with possibly a pelvic exam, pap smear, or pregnancy test. Possibility of being yelled at by the resident who checks your work. Sneak out one at a time to grab a quick lunch, but if you're lucky, you may get a true lunch break.

  • Rest of the evening: Check out your patient at the wards, make progress notes and other paperwork. The rest of the night is yours.

Day 2: Duty
  • 7:00-7:30AM Summary rounds again.

  • 7:30AM-7:00AM the following day, 24-hour duty. You are assigned to the following:

  • TEAM A (OB Admitting Section): Like an obstetric emergency room, you look at every woman who comes in labor, bleeding, etc. Draw blood, insert catheters, and send them where they need to be.

  • TEAM B (Labor Room): You receive patients from the admitting section for anything that needs to be done. Cesarean sections, normal deliveries, and other things I won't mention here. Since you can't leave for both lunch or dinner, SOP is to have food delivered from McDonald's or such. Also, the patients you deliver become your patients till they leave. Study on their case because you'll be called on in tomorrow's summary rounds.

  • TEAM C (Wards): You sit semi-permanently inside the wards and look over 30-50 patients. Each hour, you take the blood pressure, heart rate, and the fetus's heart rate of critical cases. Every four hours, you take the blood pressure and heart rate of everyone. The blood pressure machines aren't automated, so forearm muscles tend to get a bit sore. If someone flatlines, you call a code and get cracking. Lunch and dinner is inside the hospital cafeteria.

Day 3: Post-Duty
  • 7:00-7:30AM Summary rounds. Prepare to talk in detail about the patients you encountered last night. Try not to be caught off-guard.

  • Rest of the day: if one of your patients undergoes surgery, you assist (try not to pass out from lack of sleep). Otherwise, you do the paperwork of your patients. Worst case scenario is probably to go home at 2PM, best case is 8AM (YAY! Best feeling ever). Catch up on sleep.

Now, I realize my schedule probably bored the living daylights out of everyone, but I needed to tell it so I could mention my favorite part of Day 3: Post-Duty Dinner. When I was an intern I ate dinner by myself, and as a self-reward for surviving another 3-day cycle, I ate dinner at La Piadina, a quaint Italian restaurant. I'd have the special for the day, which consisted of pasta for the day (if I'm lucky, it would be Spaghetti Aglio Olio), a piadina of my choice (chicken, sometimes tomato and basil), a grilled cheese sandwich of lightly battered sweet white bread with mozzarella, and an iced tea. In addition, I ordered the Tiramisu. Which I realize is so 1990's, but I don't care. They made the best, cheapest Tiramisu around, and as I savored each bitter-sweet morsel, it made the last three days fade away. Until tomorrow, when I repeat the cycle (for another 8 weeks). But at least I'd have dessert to look forward to!

So, how do you reward yourself after a stressful day?

There's two camps regarding the construction of Tiramisu: the cream side and the meringue side. The cream method is preferred by Giada diLaurentis and the Japanese. The meringue method is preferred by Mario Batali and "Uncle" Rob of the Curious Blogquat (I don't really call him Uncle, but he's pretty much monitored my progress in pastry from the beginning at the eGullet forums). I know I should probably defer to Batali, but I like the mouthfeel and appearance of cream. Also, it doesn't require additional sugar to be stable, and I find the mascarpone mixture plenty sweet as it is. Fortunately, I have yet another Italian-American to guide me in the cream method: Mary Ann at Finding La Dolce Vita.

Since I do want you to visit their blogs, just click on the links above for the method. I used a half-recipe of Mary Ann's, to fill a 9"x9" Pyrex dish.
Espresso Dip:
  • 1 package Savoiardi ladyfingers

  • 500g (2 cups) strong espresso

  • 1 tablespoon sugar

  • splash of brandy (ideally Marsala, or Kahlua if you like)

  • 2 egg yolks, at room temperature

  • 75g (6 tablespoons) sugar

  • splash of brandy

  • 250g (1/2 pound) mascarpone

  • 200g (3/4 cup + 1 tablespoon) heavy cream

The meringue method has the added bonus of conserving the egg whites left over from getting the yolks. Your call. Just a warning: be sure to use good espresso. I used regular brewed UCC coffee, which was so insipid I might as well have been dipping the ladyfingers in water. I had a problem getting espresso from the nearby Starbucks because the barista was such a noob. Also, get good mascarpone cheese from Italy. I won't go into detail there. At the deli here, 250g Italian mascarpone is about $9.80. Australian mascarpone is $8. Ouch. But one of my friends has already expressed interest in ordering this Tiramisu from me :)

Prize Alert!
Uncle Rob also wants to know if you can guess what this is. A prize awaits the first one to get it right. Clue is in the rules.

10 August 2008

Honey Castella

Honey Castella (with title)
New! This is my entry to Click September 2008: Crusts. Wish me luck! :)

I'm going to have to apologize (again) for what may be the most horrible, forced pun that isn't even that pun-ny. But I didn't have enough time to think of the praises I was going to sing for this cake. It's simply the weirdest, most amazing cake I've ever baked. "But... It's so plain," you might think. And it is: that's part of its charm, what makes it so amazing. It's from the book that Allen gave me, The Sweet Spot by Pichet Ong. It is simply the cake that has been consumed the fastest in this household-- 8 hours (house of 5 people). Really that good.
Honey Castella (closer look)
"Well, this is certainly not up to par with your usual aesthetic," you'll probably tell me (apparently I envision all of my dear readers as sneering cynics, ha ha ha). We've already seen and laughed at those Cake Wrecks. We've been traumatized by the horrors that some unsavory folks at the Food Network have unleashed on us. (By the way, if you read the reviews, one person said that she "made the cake in the morning for my husband and I and by that evening it was gone." Because they sent it speedily on its way down the garbage chute?) I promise that you will not feel the need to defile this cake by adding frosting to it (the jam you can see in the picture I took? It's a mistake). It's already been specially engineered by skillful Nagasaki bakers (inspired by the Portuguese who introduced the Pão de Castela) to have a superior crust and lovely crumb. The crust is dark (actually supposed to me much darker than mine), sweet, smooth, and silky. The crumb is dense and moist. Just unmarred perfection.

However, I did make a major change in the size of the cake. Originally it's meant to be in a 9"x13" pan, but I don't have one. So to make it in an 8" round pan with the same height, all I have to do is divide the areas: (3.14)(4)(4)/(9)(13)=0.42. Here's where the magic of the metric system comes in: just multiply the quantities by the factor. What about the 7 eggs and 3 egg yolks? Since I don't really remember how much an egg yolk weighs, I just add all the whites together (7) and the yolks (10) and multiply each by 0.42, giving 2.8 whites and 4.2 yolks. Round them to the nearest one and you get 3 whites and 4 yolks, or 3 whole eggs and 1 additional egg yolk. Easy peasy. The baking time is the only step that'll be difficult, but not a problem for me! :)

By the way, the Obstetrics and Gynecology postgraduate course has already gone public, so it's with mild excitement that I present to you the posters that I was commissioned to make (click to enlarge). The background of the one in Boracay is an actual picture taken by me at that beach; the painting of the pregnant woman was sketched by hand and painted in Photoshop. My influence for this design is from clean Swiss modern design, in contrast to the Art Nouveau/ Parisian influence I used in the last one (my progress on that work is here, and my work from the year before that is here).

I'm aware that the second poster looks unbalanced by the visual weight of the magnifying glass versus the white space above it. However, the committee wasn't so hot on the word "Based" being partially hidden. I argued that any physician worth his/her salt would not mistake the word after "Evidence" for anything else. I lost. Here's the original:

P.S. Jason of Jason Cooks has awarded me with a Brillante Award. Thanks so much, Jason!! :)

Honey Castella adapted from The Sweet Spot
True Castella from Nagasaki does not contain any added oil, which makes Ong's recipe unique. There are also several other techniques in traditional Castella that I don't use here: sprinkling the batter with coarse sugar that settles at the bottom and makes a dark, sweet bottom crust, taking out the cake halfway through baking and disturbing it to destroy the air bubbles and make the cake dense, and baking in a covered container to steam the cake. You will also notice there is a slight fall in the cake, which creates a raised rim of crust. This didn't bother me, but if you don't like the effect, you can cool the cake upside-down: just be careful to do so on a greased surface so you won't lose any of the precious crust.

  • 88g (1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons) all-purpose flour

  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature

  • 1 large egg yolk, at room temperature

  • pinch of salt

  • 126g (1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons) granulated sugar

  • 42g (1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons) honey

  • 22g (1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons) canola or other neutral oil (you may also use the same weight, or 1-1/2 tablespoons of butter, melted)

Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F). Spray an 8-inch round pan with baking spray and line the bottom and sides with parchment. Don't spray the parchment after lining. Sift the flour onto a sheet of wax paper or a bowl and set aside. In a heatproof (or mixer) bowl, add the eggs, egg yolk, salt, sugar, and honey. Place this over a saucepan of simmering water and beat on medium speed with a hand mixer (or use a whisk) for 10 minutes (the mixture will be at least 40°C, or 104°F). Take off the heat and beat on high speed for at least 6 more minutes using a hand mixer (or 10 minutes on a stand mixer if you started out with a whisk). The batter will be cool, pale and form very thick ribbons that take a very long time to sink completely into the surface of the batter.

Gently fold in the flour into the batter in 3 additions. Take about 1/2 cup of the batter and whisk it into the oil until completely homogeneous, then drizzle it back into the batter, folding continuously as you add it.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 20 minutes, then turn the heat down to 150°C (300°F) and continue baking for 18-25 more minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few very fine crumbs. Cool the cake completely (cool inverted on a sheet of greased parchment if desired). Unmold to a serving platter.

04 August 2008

Old-School Pork Chops with Apples and Sage

Baked Pork Chops with Apples and Sage (with title)
Sorry about the alarming subtitle. It really has nothing to do with pork chops. I was just thinking about friends (again): about what importance I put in friendships ten years ago to what it means to me today. Fitting that I write it today because just a few hours ago, I watched a movie with my ooooldest friend Anton (15 years and counting), whereas the movies I watched in the theater over the last 7 years were mostly by myself. The line is Charlie Brown's lamentation to his peers, from a book of the same name.
Gifts from Ann
However, the main reason I wanted to write about friends is because of the many new friends I've made since I started writing this blog. Like Ann of Redacted Recipes. She first stumbled on my blog when I wrote about the Banoffee Pie (since her sweet babboo Jack is English) and we've rarely missed each other's posts since. She wouldn't consider herself sweet ("extra bitter" is what she'd prefer, heh), but she's sweet to me, and that's all that counts in my little world. A few weeks ago she sent me a gorgeous care package of her homemade orange-rhubarb marmalade, maple syrup, Gourmet salts, and a moo card of her Palmiers. I've been eating big spoonfuls of the coralline marmalade daily (with toast of course!); it's quite addictive and insanely good-- I love the unique fragrance.
Gifts from Allen
The other friend I was thinking of is fellow reality television fiend Allen of Eating Out Loud. He linked to my blog shortly after my post on baked eggs in cream cheese biscuits and I visited his to thank him. It didn't take long before I realized how fun it is to talk to him. He sent me a congratulatory gift (for passing the USMLE Step 1) of The Sweet Spot (YAY!) and a DVD I've been searching for my dad of Friends (what a coincidence, eh?), starring Anicee Alvina and Sean Bury. It's one of my dad's favorite movies.

If you've been on the food blogaverse long enough, you'd have known that Lucy's boasting is quite empty. It's possible to be popular without having any friends, but having friends to celebrate or commiserate with makes my journey sweeter and more effortless. I like talking about my life. I like hearing about yours. Even though I don't initiate e-mail often, I do think about my blog friends and what they're going through.

When I was young I had a lot of criteria to consider someone my friend. I still do, but I don't hold it against my friends any longer if they can't be there for me. Like the book said, a friend embraces you for who you are, not what they wish you could be. In my unfairness to my friends in the past (Anton included, haha), I'd overlooked that I wasn't really that great of a friend to them, either. What can I say, I'm human too. These days, I try not to be so hard on them-- and hard on myself. I just try. (By the way: a friend I can sock on the arm? That's Graeme, especially post-tattoo. But you guys can sock me on the arm if you like.)

In the same shelf where "I Need All The Friends I Can Get" was, I found "Happiness Is A Sad Song." Passing this page, I immediately thought of Jen and it made me happy to think that her cancer treatments were coming to an end. I thought about Bri and how glad I was that the donations for her treatment exceeded expectations. Starting this blog about 1 year or almost 200 posts ago, did I think I'd ever feel such emotions for other food bloggers? Hell no. I'm glad that's changed. I just wanted to say thanks to everyone who's kept me company (be it in physical form or on the Internet). I really appreciate it.

(Passing this page I realized how it's so NOT like Jen, and SO like me. Ha ha ha.) I also wanted to give a huge hug to yet another blogger friend: Kittymama of Okasenko Chronicles, who gave me a Sharing The Love, uh, citation a few weeks back. I was deeply honored, and her extremely generous description of me certainly helped, heh. Her blog is a relatively recent discovery of mine, and each trip to one of her posts is sure to find me amused, or my heart warmed.

Old-School Pork Chops with Apples and Sage from Cook With Jamie
Jamie Oliver recommends 1-inch deep cuts on the fatty side to prevent the pork chops curling as they cook. I'm doing that from now on. I like the dactylic appearance, and of course the fact that it's flat and browns evenly. I discovered that a really good tool to use is a pair of poultry shears. Someone gifted us with a Henckels and it is dangerously sharp. I love it.

  • 4 9-oz pork chops

  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • olive oil

  • 2 good eating apples (e.g. McIntosh or Cox), cored and each cut into 8 wedges

  • a knob of butter

  • a handful of fresh sage leaves

  • optional: 100g (3-1/2 oz) good strong cheese like Stilton or taleggio

Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F). Make 1-inch deep cuts along the fatty side of the pork chops, extending into the meat, so they have a fringe-like edge. Sprinkle the chops with salt and pepper. Place a heavy skillet over high heat and add a some olive oil. Fry the pork chops for 4-5 minutes on each side or until golden brown. When the chops are nearly done, lift them out of the pan and place them into a roasting pan. To the skillet, add a knob of butter and the apple wedges and fry until lightly golden. Place 4 apple wedges on each chop, top with the sage (and cheese if using), then drizzle olive oil on top. Bake for 4-6 minutes or until everything is golden and melted.