Friday, October 31, 2008

In the end...: Vegan MoFo #23

This is my last blog for Vegan MoFo. I can't believe it's been over a month! It's been a pleasure and a challenge to blog every weekday about food. I'm glad I pulled through and I hope my blog won't look so empty and sorry anymore.

I recall my first mofo entry like it was only yesterday...

And I thought it would be only fitting that I end MoFo with the same theme of carrot-y goodness...

Apparently I'm not the only one crazy about carrot cake. My coworker and friend Pet has ordered carrot cake cupcakes twice, and this time she ordered a carrot cake. Now that I've been baking cakes more often, I'm getting the hang of decorating them. Lessons from mofoing: don't fear cakes, cakes love to be baked and frosted!

(carrot cake smothered in a walnut-studded cinnamon buttercream)

MoFoing has been such a learning experience for me. Before October my blog had about 5 measly entries in a span of 8 months. I hope I'll continue blogging and churn out 1 entry at least every week.

MoFo lessons learned:
  1. It's best that you include photographs in your posts for a more interesting read. You don't need a schmancy SLR camera to get awesome photos.
  2. You don't need high-tech editing software to make your photos look more smashing than they already are. Picasa is user friendly.
  3. Picasa is not mac friendly.
  4. Blogspot is not mac friendly.
  5. Bring your camera everywhere (even if it's to get street food and buko juice from just around the corner); you never know when the perfect opportunity comes to photograph food.
  6. Pictures of baked goods (such as 90 cupcakes, 60 cupcakes, 1 cake, or 3 cakes) is always a crowd pleaser.
  7. Have your companion animals stay with you when you're cooking or baking. Cooking and baking won't feel so much like chores anymore.
Til next MoFo!

(Lucky pooped out from all the baking)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Veg options at Cafe Mediterranean: Vegan MoFo #22

Apart from believing that I'm born in the wrong decade (I listen to lolo / grandpa jazz and 60's bossa nova more than contemporary music) I'm almost convinced that I'm born in the wrong country. Hey, don't get me wrong, I love the Philippines, I want to live here forever and ever and never move. But if I had to choose a place to live apart from my country, I'd have to go with the Mediterranean. Frankly I'm not an expert on Mediterranean anything; I do know that it has a lot of history, lovely weather year round, and fantastic food that is healthy, delicious, and not meat centered. I wouldn't mind living penniless in the Mediterranean, if only for its food.

Cafe Mediterranean has been on my list of favorite restaurants ever since it opened its doors in Manila. I love that it isn't mainstream "western" food; by mainstream, I mean it's not Italian. I used to be really into Italian food, but pasta and pizza can get tiring. I know there's more to Italian cuisine than pasta and pizza, but man, the Italian restaurants out here pretty much brainwash us into thinking that Italy = pasta and pizza, and nothing else.

Cafe Mediterranean is refreshing in that it has a lot to offer: gyros, rice plates, couscous plates, pizza, some pasta, and other sandwiches. And, it isn't out to kill you. I believe this was one of the restaurants that started offering South Beach diet options (i.e. low carb / high protein) in Manila; and yes, I confess, I was once on South Beach and this was why I loved Cafe Mediterranean. The restaurant does not shun vegetables and wholewheat like the plague; you can easily order green beans provencal together with your protein of choice (plant or dead animal) without being laughed at by the server. And, true to its Mediterranean cuisine form, it offers a lot of vegan friendly options!

Last Sunday was the first time I ate at Cafe Mediterranean as a vegan and I was confident I would find something good and satisfying to eat that was not a bowl of leaves and vinegar. Manila vegans (are you
out there?), we are so blessed to have this restaurant serve actual plant protein that is not tofu!

From the appetizer menu one could order some wholewheat pita with hummus, tabbouleh, and marinated olives. I believe you can order cucumber sticks instead of the bread. Sorry, no picture of the appetizer, I'm sure you know how hummus looks like; if not, check my birthday post. I can honestly say... I make better tasting hummus. :) They skimped on the spices. They skimped on the parsley for the tabbouleh too.

The place actually has 2 vegan soup options -- roasted vegetable soup and lentil soup -- just ask the server to remove the croutons and serve the side bread without butter. There is a salad section full of hearty choices that are not just leaves and tomatoes, with the option of removing the animal protein that comes with it.

On my part, I ordered the lentil soup, which was nice and filling (please disregard the buttered bread). I have tried their cumin-spiced roasted vegetable soup in the past and I like this immensely too. I also ordered the couscous salad with roasted red peppers and chickpeas. I usually don't like restaurant salads because they always only serve leaves, but this salad was non-conformist and was really good. The peppers were sweet and smoky while the couscous and chickpeas were creamy. It was a toothsome salad.

As for the main entree, we have the falafel. This must be the only restaurant in Manila that offers falafels. Usually prepared with garlic mayonnaise, you can ask your server to substitute it with hummus. The falafels were a deep dark brown, crunchy on the outside, moist and tender in the inside. I have yet to perfect the art of falafel making.

Falafels lovingly wrapped in wholewheat pita with thinly sliced onions, shredded lettuce, sliced tomatoes, and hummus... It was a good meal.

Cafe Mediterranean
Corte delas Palmas,
Alabang Town Center
Commerce Ave, Alabang

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

On with the cupcake porn: Vegan MoFo #21

PETA ordered more cupcakes, this time 2 boxes of 4 flavors. Again, it was a thrill to make these babies for true blue vegans. Just to let you know, the only person I knew who was vegan until PETA came along a month ago is my brother . I feel all warm and fuzzy inside when fellow vegans appreciate my vegan desserts. Don't get me wrong, I love it when omnivores get floored by them too, but it does get lonely when you're the only vegan out there...

Anyway, on with the porn.

Lovely vanilla cupcakes with vanilla buttercream and homemade sugar sprinkles. Can't I get any more Martha
Stewart-ish? Dirt cheap to make your own too. Google is an amazing DIY reference.

One of PETA's favorites, lemony cupcakes with lemon buttercream -- absolutely no lemon extract!! Lemon cupcakes are so refreshing, especially with a nice cup of tea.

Coconut cupcakes with coconut buttercream, made with virgin coconut oil and topped with toasted coconut. I really love fruit-based desserts, and coconut is of course one of them. Whether you're stuck in an office in Makati smog city or in some cold country... Coconut will always make you think of the tropics, especially of beaches. Especially, Palawan and Batanes.

Banana split chocolate cupcakes with banocolate buttercream, topped with a banana chip. Banana + chocolate = love. I concocted these for a housewarming party in August and my friends loved them.

Salivating yet?
Order now.

And with all the baking, there is a serious frosting situation afoot...

Cake Porn: Vegan MoFo #20

Here's to getting MoFo #20 over and done with, through cake porn. I baked and frosted these cakes last week; the first one was for family, the last two was for sale:

I finally got around to experimenting with a Filipino inspired dessert. Well, in this case, a coffee cake. No, it doesn't have any coffee. Yes, it's still called a coffee cake. A Mango Cashew Coffee Cake. Great with a nice cuppa coffee or tea, perfect for breakfast as well. I'm quite proud of this because it's a true blue Filipino vegan cake. Hurray! I used my mom's homemade mango jam (which if you can recall, I used in an impromptu salad dressing) and locally grown cashew nuts. I originally had wanted to use pili nuts but they were a bit more expensive, and you'd have to blanch them yourselves to remove the papery brown skin. I was hesitant to use cashews as their flavor can be overpowering. However, I'm proud to report that cashews and mango go great together.

Next off, a two layer vanilla cake with chocolate buttercream topped with almonds (similar to this cake). Again, this cake was inspired by Martha. Sliced almonds are such a simple cake topper and they make cakes appear so sophisticated (well, in my opinion they do). Spied in the background: naked mini cupcakes (blog post pending) and Christmasy ginger cookies.

Lastly, a cake I wish I could have taken a slice of. Two layer chocolate cake smothered in vanilla frosting and topped with crushed toffee. I made the toffee awhile back and thought about it as a cake topper on a whim. I wish I added the crushed toffee between the layers as well!

Anyway, that's all for MoFo #20. I'll be blogging soon about cupcakes... I just need to sort through my 150+ photos!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Who needs a cake pedestal...: Vegan MoFo #19

If you've got a huge salad bowl in your kitchen?

(vanilla minicupcakes with vanilla buttercream on my fancy cake pedestal)

A decent inexpensive ceramic cake pedestal cannot be found here in Manila, and buying one from abroad (I did spy some lovely ones when I was in Sydney a few months ago) seemed too complicated with it being too bulky for hand carrying and all... What's a baker to do?

Behold the humble salad bowl. My mom got this ceramic bowl as a Christmas gift and it's been pretty handy. My family likes to use it to serve huge amounts of pasta, and for salad too, of course. I've revolutionized the utilization of this salad bowl and used it as a trusty cake pedestal, or in this case, a cupcake pedestal. Let me tell you, you'll be thankful you used it while frosting baked goods - it is an ergonomic wonder. It brings the baked goods about chest level high (I put the salad bowl on my kitchen island and its table is about elbow high) so you don't have to bend down for your frosting tip to reach whatever you're planning to frost, preventing scoliosis and other back problems.

All you need is a dinner plate sitting on top of an overturned salad bowl and you're ready to frost. If you've got, say, 90 minicupcakes to frost, I suggest putting about 15 minis on one dinner plate each. For regular cupcakes, it's 6 per plate. When plate A of cupcakes are frosted, remove from the bowl and replace with plate B. I usually put my cakes on cake boards, and these sit perfectly well on the salad bowl with no help of a dinner plate.

In terms of actual baked goods display in buffets, I recommend that only cupcakes be displayed in a plate on top of the bowl. I suggest the plate be taped on the bowl so it doesn't accidentally topple over. I haven't tested this out though!

(semi-frosted vanilla cake with chocolate buttercream, on a cake board, on my salad bowl)

Monday, October 27, 2008

Black salt love: Vegan MoFo #18

What can I say, I refuse to call myself a foodie (I shuddered when I typed that word!) but I do appreciate the occasional odd ingredient find here and there. First it was the rose water and now it's... black salt.

The concept of finishing salts has been haunting me ever since I read Isa's post on them on her Post Punk Kitchen blog. I was so curious to try the salts but I wasn't willing to shell out too much on them. Right after my stroll around the Salcedo Market and lunch at New Bombay, but before hunting around Baker's Dozen, I stopped by Assad's Mini Mart, probably my favorite grocery store of all time. I love telling people about Assad's because it literally is an adventure to shop there. I hesitate to blog about it because I don't want people flooding into the store and buying all the good stuff and leaving me with nothing to buy but perhaps cans of ghee. But, I do want to spread the vegan love, and the black salt love too.

Assad's Mini Mart is a Pakistani grocery store on Jupiter Street in Makati. It is very veg friendly (fake meats in the freezer, foil packets of ready-to-eat veg food in the aisles, tons of beans and nuts, and yummy spiced junk food) and a great place to buy spices at dirt cheap prices (P40-60 or $0.82-1.25 for 50 grams). Yes, and their spice selection is really good, never shop at McCormick ever again! A lot of the packets of spices don't have labels though, or if they do they're in Hindi or Urdu spelled out using the English alphabet. So, if you have some kind of Hindu/Urdu-English spice dictionary, you can easily whip it out and use it to hunt down the spices you need. If you don't have a spice dictionary, you'll have to go by sight and smell to distinguish spice A from spice B, and if you're lacking in the olfactory department too, just holler for one of the helpful sales clerks, who are Filipino but know the spices in Hindu / Urdu by heart. Oh, Assad's is great for buying cheap-o psyllium husks as well (P100 or $2.04 for 100 grams), in case you're, you know, constipated because you don't eat your beans and vegetables or you're on Atkins. You can find rose water here too!

Anyway, this post shouldn't be about Assad's, it should be about black salt love. Black salt, काला नमक or kala namak or sanchal in Hindi, is unrefined salt from the volcanic rocks in India. It has tones of pink, purple, and gray, thanks to trace minerals and iron. Yup, the salt isn't black, but it's called black salt. It has a distinctive sulfuric taste akin to eggs that is not unpleasant.

Black salt imparts its peculiar flavor in chaats (fresh salads), raitas (cucumber-yogurt salads), chutneys, and other Indian food. One can also have the salt sprinkled on cucumber, watermelon, and mango for that salty-sweet flavor that we Asians adore.

Black salt has also been utilized extensively in Ayurvedic medicine, India's classic medical science. It is a digestive and can cure flatulence and heart burn. According to this site, it doesn't increase the sodium content of blood so people with high blood pressure or on a low sodium diet can still use it. It also improves eyesight and aids in indigestion. Seriously, what's not to love?

I've tried this sprinkled on tofu scramble (my favorite is tortang talong or eggplant omelette sans the egg -- sauteed garlic, onions, tomatoes, roasted eggplant, and mashed firm tofu) and it is amazing. I think it would be good on fresh sliced tomatoes and green mango, ala mangga't bagoong. Oh, my mouth waters just thinking about it!

Another reason to love black salt: it was only P30 or $0.62 for 50 grams. Since you're not supposed to use it like regular salt (meaning, sprinkle a bit on your food right before eating; still use regular salt in the cooking), 50 grams should last a long time.

If you come across black salt, get it. Then share the black salt love with your friends and family.

*Info on black salt paraphrased from here, here, and here.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Meager veg finds at Rockwell's Baker's Dozen: Vegan MoFo #17

I'd like to interrupt this mofo with a public service announcement...

Kids, you don't have to drink cow's milk-based baby formula to be in danger of consuming melamine. Don't consume dairy, and
you won't get poisoned, alright? Save the cow's milk for baby cows, and drink soy if you need a milk fix.

Don't you hate that the packaging of this crap has happy dancing cows on it? As if the cows happily gave their milk for us to make candy out of and pranced around the meadow after the milking. Well in this case it's supposedly the
carabaos. Oh, let's (us being the dairy industry) trick the world into thinking that the cows freely gave, nay, gifted us, with their mammalian reproductive secretions because we need them to live. Let's (us being consumers) not forget that these mothers have to be raped before they get pregnant and have their babies removed from them (right after birth!) so we can drink their breast milk. Did I mention that these mothers are stuck in metal prisons the whole time? And that they cry, just like we would do, when their babies are ripped from their bossoms?

On to the veg finds. Baker's Dozen is a weekend baked goods market in the basement of Powerplant Mall, Rockwell. Indie baker-entrepreneurs peddle their goods Fridays to Sundays from now until December. It's a good avenue for entrepreneurs to showcase and sell their merchandise to the masses (without having to spend on renting permanent retail space), and for the masses to check out what's hot and new in the baking world. Last year I recall seeing a lot of cupcakes (one table sold cocktail-inspired cupcakes) and sugar-free desserts like carrot cake. This year... it's pretty much the same thing. Everyone wants to diet (hence sugar free) but still have cake.

I say there were meager veg finds here only because mainstream bakers use dairy and eggs in their products, and this applied to the Baker's Dozen bakers. What this market seriously lacks are: [1] traditional Filipino desserts that are usually naturally vegan and [2] vegan western desserts. I've been battling with myself on whether or not to rent a table and sell my goods (don't judge the site, it's a work in progress!), but the logistics and timing are too difficult. I have a day job and I bake all on my own. I can't cut work to bake enough to stock up for the weekend.

Anyway, there were two things that I found vegan at the Baker's Dozen market...

The Muesli-Granola Kitchen and Bakeshop sells granola bars. No honey! No egg whites (yeah, some low fat bars use egg whites to bind)! Only oats, fruit, and nutty goodness! No white sugar, just brown sugar and muscovado sugar. Contrary to popular belief (or what I've been told), according to MGKB's owner, brown sugar in this country isn't white sugar + molasses. It really is unrefined sugar. In the totem pole of refined sugar, on the bottom sits muscovado, followed by brown sugar, then washed sugar, then white on top. Probably on top should be sweet poison, aka artificial sweeteners... no nutritional value whatsoever. I have to confess I'm hooked on Splenda whenever I drink coffee, but I'm really trying to wean myself from this stuff...

MGKB's granola bars come in a lot of flavors, most of them vegan. I lost the flyer so I can't reiterate everything, sorry. I do know that there's a chocolate bar, which isn't vegan. But everything else seems to be vegan. There's a Krispy Kreme variant, which has almonds, the original which has walnuts and dried fruit, and Monkey bar which has bananas and peanut butter. I really like their Pinoy granola bar -- "Mangga't Kasuy", or Mango and Cashews. It's quite refreshing to find a local purveyor of granola bars in this country. At P35 or $0.73 per bar, it's not bad at all. And yes, they have sugar free too, at P45 or $0.94.

Next up is Xocolat, purveyor of all things chocolate. You'll find brownies (not vegan), ready to drink hot chocolate (not vegan), and canisters of pure cocoa powder (vegan! they have an organic line!). I believe they try their best to source their chocolate from local growers, which is refreshing as well. It's sad that our local cacao industry never took off in the past, and I hope that guys like Xocolat reclaim and market cacao as Filipino and world class. I'm a fan of tsokolate eh myself, and I've been known to cook my oatmeal with tablea ala champurrado (rice porridge with chocolate). Hmmm, I really should experiment with baking with local cacao... More on cacao here.

Xocolat was selling chocolate-themed tote bags too, at P150 or $3.13 per piece. Not bad eh? I'd've bought one if it was big enough to fit groceries in. It seemed to be big enough only for light shopping, or to carry things like clothes or books.

Anyway, I really like Xocolat's packaging. I love that they use metal canisters instead of cheap-o unrecyclable plastic. Their brand design's not so bad too, you'd never have thought it was Pinoy. It seems pretty wasteful though that they wrap each slice of brownie individually in tissue paper, with probably plastic inside to catch the oil from blotting the paper.

That's pretty much it. I wasn't too disappointed because I found the granola bars. If you go visit the MGKB table, you'll be able to try all their flavors.

Baker's Dozen
Basement level
Powerplant Mall, Rockwell
Fridays to Saturdays,
September to December 2008

Veg options at New Bombay: Vegan MoFo #16

Wow, I am so behind in mofoing, it's not even funny. Watch me single handedly churn out 3 posts within the next few hours, in style...

Anyway, right after visiting the Salcedo Market last Saturday, the family and I decided to eat at an Indian restaurant in the area called New Bombay upon recommendation of my sister who ate there the day before. What I love about my family is that we're not afraid to try something different. Granted Indian is one of the most popular cuisines around and is no longer "different" (hell I'd like to take a wild guess and think that Filipino cuisine is "something different" to the rest of the world!), but I know some of my friends despise Indian food and like it nice and safe at Pinoy and western restaurants. Sorry, Indians out there, no offense. I guess some people's palettes really can't take the 20+ spices you add in your food that makes it complex and sooo good. 

But back to my family, we love good food and we love going to new restaurants, especially when that restaurant is pretty much a hole in the wall. And we really really love Indian food. We live in Alabang and there are NO INDIAN RESTAURANTS AROUND. We are so deprived of Indian food love that we eat Indian any chance we get. Hey, Pinoy Indians, why not come over to Alabang and put up a veg friendly restaurant?

Don't you just love it when restaurants show the world that they have vegetarian food?! Well, here where everyone bows down and kisses the feet of meat (and eats them too...), I find it refreshing and... what's the word --- reinforcing? that the world can be vegetarian friendly and that I'm not alone in the battle for more commercially available vegetarian food. 

Gosh, enough with the rambling and on with the food...

My brother (who's vegan too) and I ordered the appetizer staple in any Indian restaurant, the samosa (P80 or $1.67 for 4 pieces -- not bad eh?). It was a good thing that it came on a plate wrapped in foil, which I think masked the fact that the samosa was deep fried. Anyway, the hot samosas were perfect with the cool spicy tamarind sauce (the potatoes inside were themselves spicy too).

For our entree, we ordered the dal makani (P150-180 or $3.13-3.75, [I forget the exact price] enough for 2 people), a stew of black lentils (which look uncannily like black monggo) in a yellow sauce spiced with garam masala and ginger. Traditionally this dish is served with huge amounts of cream and ghee, but this restaurant served it dairy free. Despite the dairy free status, the dal was creamy and satisfying. I think I tasted a hint of cumin in the background? Together with the dal, we ordered...

Chapati, whole wheat of course (P20 or $0.42 per piece). I myself am in love with any flat tortilla-type bread, so I liked this one all right. It didn't seem like the right carb accompaniment to the dal though. The dal was thick, but not thick enough to spread on the chapati without the sauce spilling over. We had some of my sister's saffron rice, which went better.

And of course, when we saw that the menu had vegetable meatballs, we just had to order them. 

Not made of TVP, the vegetable coftas (I think it was P140 or $2.92 for 4 coftas) were pleasantly firm and chewy, definitely not mushy. You could almost have these on pasta. I would definitely order these again.

New Bombay
G/F Sagittarius Building III, 
312 HV dela Costa St, 
Salcedo Village, Makati

Disclaimer: this place really is a hole in the wall... Don't expect posh dining. It was kinda dark inside... Perfect for lunch but not for a romantic date for sure.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Oops... Vegan MoFo #15

I know I haven't exactly been religious with mofoing... Things are getting busy here in vegan baking land. I had wanted to post a restaurant review and a tour of the veg options at the Bakers' Dozen in Powerplant, Rockwell, but these'll have to do.

I'm making a ton of goodies for PETA and I started working on it yesterday Tuesday (they'll be picking up the goods on Friday). Above left are pre-sifted ingredients for some cupcakes, chocolate cake, cookies, and banana bars. Above right is a mere portion of the whole order... I am literally falling asleep as I type this...

With every baking escapade come great pictures. Wait up for more pretty baking pictures by the weekend (hopefully!).

Does anybody know of tactics to help bakers such as myself watch what I eat when I'm baking? A little smidge of frosting here, a splash of cake batter there, not to mention the remnants of a cake when you slice off its top to make it flat and even all add up to serious calorie consumption. And all in the name of baking! I try to ignore that bit of frosting that smeared itself on my hand to no avail... Everything escalates of course when you make 6 different frostings...
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