Friday, November 28, 2008

Last minute baking and whining before Hong Kong

It's almost 1am and I have yet to pack my suitcase for my 3-day break in HK. Just finished making 2 coffee cakes (1 of them includes a mango cashew coffee cake, in case you were wondering) and 1 banana split brownies and am dead tired! And yet, instead of finishing up my chores I'm here blogging and whining about having to pack... And trying to upload baking porn on Facebook but all of a sudden Facebook decided to get smart and load so slow...

Well, I guess I should have planned better. I didn't even get to withdraw money and convert them into dollars for the trip. Everything's been a whirlwind, what with the whole brouhaha over Twilight (watched the movie yesterday, currently reading the novel now; yeah Luisa I jumped on the bandwagon, so sue me) and my current obsession with Mario Puzo (the author). I had to run to the baking supply store today after work to get some travel-friendly cake boxes for a coffee cake and brownies which are traveling all the way to India! No I'm not going to India (I wish), but an Indian guy ordered from me and will bring them to India to show PETA there that yeah, it's so freaking easy to be vegan here, you can get vegan cake and cupcakes so easily. How cool is that?! My creations are going to India even before I go.

I got carried away fixing labels for my cakes and decided to make veg-friendly Christmas tags to be attached to orders meant for Christmas giveaways. this is why I haven't started packing!! Freaking Christmas tags that are currently not important! And I have to get ready to leave the country tomorrow!

I'm off to a mini-vacation that's been giving me a lot of heart ache. Back in May my older brother Martin convinces me to buy Cebu Pacific "zero peso" tickets to HK for the November 29-December 1 long weekend, and I tell him I didn't want to take a vacation leave from work. I'm thinking, great, I'll spend P4,000 / $80, no big deal. Then it turns out to be P7,700 / $154 -- sneaky sneaky Cebu Pacific! Then last week I find out that the return ticket was for a Tuesday, not a Monday, which meant I'd have to take Tuesday off (Monday's a holiday). I couldn't take a leave for Tuesday because originally I had to prepare for a launch for Wednesday. So I had to return my return flight ticket and book another flight for Monday arrival in Manila, and I had to pay a whopping P7,000 / $140 for that one goddamn ticket. Kill me now with all the expenses. I'm spending all this money and I haven't even left for Hong Kong yet! The other night Martin convinces me to take a day trip to Macau and watch Cirque du Soleil -- another P4,000 for the boat and P2,000 for the Cirque tickets.

I'm never going traveling without my parents again.

Hope you guys enjoy the long weekend. I hope I do too...

Oh and here's the kicker. The launch was moved to January. I could've taken that Tuesday off after all, and saved P7,000.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A present, baking mania, and cookie porn

I'm the kind of person who loooves getting kitchen things for presents. Seriously. You can get me mixing bowls for Christmas and I'd love them. One of my aunts / titas got me a y-peeler for my birthday -- a peeler! I love it because it's so much easier to use than a conventional peeler.

My other aunt, who has been under a spell since I baked her a box of cupcakes, got me a microplane. I've been eying this baby for quite some time but didn't have the heart to drop P850 / $17 on one. It's nice when you've got family that knows what you want for your birthday.

I love this microplane, seriously. I get twice more zest per lemon than I do with a conventional zester. And there isn't that danger of accidentally zesting your own skin. And, you don't have to chop up the zest to get 'em nice and tiny so they get evenly distributed in the batter. I tested this baby on a batch of lemony cupcakes I made for an order and I am a convert.

And speaking of cupcakes...

So PETA has been a regular client so far, and they ordered 2 boxes of cupcakes for Appetite Magazine, a local food magazine. PETA has a food and health section in Appetite which is so nice because you don't often get to see veganism being promoted in mainstream media these days. And oh man I've been in such a craze baking all weekend, and this is one of the boxes of cupcakes they gave Appetite. Behold: banana split chocolate cupcakes with banocolate buttercream and lemony cupcakes with lemon buttercream. Let's all pray that they like 'em...

banana split chocolate cupcakes with banocolate buttercream

I've also been trying to shoot more food photographs. I find that cookies (and muffin tops) are hard to take photos of, because they're just blobs of brown batter. Cupcakes shine on their own because of the pretty frosting, and so do cakes as well. But cookies... They need to be prettified with props and they take awhile to shine. Poor cookies... They're not the prettiest girls on the block. On the left are banana oat muffin tops, on the right, peanut butter oat cookies.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

World Vegan Day / Lazy Saturday Part 2: Lentils with onions and fennel seed

Back when I was an omni I was a huge fan of the cooking shows on the Lifestyle Network, particularly (*gasp*) 30 Minute Meals. For the record, I liked Rachel Ray back when she was a plain Jane with her short hair and mommy clothes and she had her homey kitchen (I'm still in love with her Smeg refrigerator and Chambers stove), not when fame got into her head and she launched her own magazine and started endorsing Nabisco and Burger King (sell out...).

But this post isn't about her, it's about my love for really quick suppers, especially when there's a occasion to celebrate. For my World Vegan Day dinner I decided that a quick lentil stew, or lentejas, would be both satisfyingly good and easy to prepare. Actually, this lentil stew is the epitome of lazy cooking, seriously. You just dump stuff into the pot, let it sit for 20-30 minutes, then you've got a lovely meal.

I am really loving fennel seed right now. I bought it because I wanted to try Susan's Veggeroni and fennel seed really gave the pepperoni that zing. It is an amazing spice! According to this site it is part of the parsley family and has an anise-like flavor that is not pungent. Fun trivia: fennel seed got its name for the Greek word for "marathon", because the famous battle at Marathon against the Persians in 490 BC was fought on a field of Fennel.

And, just like our friend, black salt, fennel seed has therapeutic properties. It can stimulate one's appetite, ease digestion, reduce intestinal spasms, and treat urinary infections. Nursing mothers can eat this spice to stimulate the flow of breast milk, and it can regulate menstruation and relieve PMS. With its antiseptic volatile oils, it is a good remedy for arthritis and gout. Did I mention that it can cure asthma, bronchitis, colic, crohn's disease, food poisoning and motion sickness?!

Anyway, enough with the medical lesson and on with the food.

Lentils with onions and fennel seed
Pour a glug of oil into a pot on medium heat. Toss in the fennel seeds (I used about 2-3 tsp) and dried chili flakes and let pop for a few seconds. Add in some sliced onion (I don't fuss around with chopping these, just slice them into half-rings; I love onion so use as many heads as you like) and fry until transparent and brown-ish. Add in some smashed garlic and toss around for a minte.

Add in your dried lentils (these should have been picked over and slightly rinsed; I used 1 cup) and cook until they look toasty. Throw in some sliced tomatoes (no need to remove the seeds and pulp; just rough chop them. I used 4 egg tomatoes) and water (2 1/2 cups). When the mixture starts to look bubbly, lower the heat to low and slightly cover.

Simmer for 20-30 minutes, depending on how you like your lentils -- with a bite or slightly mushy. Halfway through, open the lid and check it out -- if it looks a bit dry, add another 1/2 cup of water. You don't want soup though, the water should absorb all the fennel goodness but not end up more in quantity than the lentils. Add salt only at the end, and feel free to add more chili.

This stew is fantastic on rice and vegetables. The fennel really gives it a smoky savory flavor. Onions are there for the caramelization and sweetness.

So, in summary: oil + fennel + chili + onions + garlic + lentils + tomatoes + water + salt.

Happy World Vegan Day everyone!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

World Vegan Day / Lazy Saturday Part 1: Tequila-spiked barbecued tofu with grilled onions and tomatoes

November 1: November 1 2008 was my first time to celebrate World Vegan Day as a vegan. I spent the weekend out of the concrete jungle and closer to nature. Well, I spent the weekend in a beach house but we never even ventured out to the beach. We mostly just slept, ate, played pusoy dos, read, and watched the 4th season of The Office.

When you're not facebooking or blogging because there's no internet (or phone line for that matter), you can't help but become more domestic. With an 8-6 job and a cupcake-baking (mid)night job, I sometimes forget how enjoyable it feels to cook something that was meant to be eaten by me and my family. When you're in a place where skyscrapers don't exist, the air does not smell of car fumes, the ocean is a 10 minute walk away, and there are palm trees in your garden, you can't help but bring out the ol' Weber grill and do some outdoor cooking.

World Vegan Day Menu
Tequila-spiked barbecued tofu
Grilled onio
ns and tomatoes
Sauteed talbos ng sayote / chayote tendrils

Lentils with onions and fennel seed
Ensaladang talong / grilled eggplant salad

Tequila-spiked calamansi juice

We brought over a bottle of tequila, left over from my birthday feast; my brothers and I planned to drink all Saturday night, but whaddaya know... something in the cool provincial air made us go to bed at 9:30 and watch The Office on my mac. The tequila did not go to waste, I found good use for it in the kitchen.

Tequila-spiked barbecued tofu with grilled onions and tomatoes
I can't really give a recipe out here because I just mixed things in willy-nilly.

Essentially, in a bowl, mix in some chopped garlic, 1/4 c. freshly squeezed calamansi juice (or citrus juice of choice), about 1/2 c. of soy sauce, 1/2-1/4 c. canned pineapple-orange juice, and 1/4 c. of tequila. Mix everything together with a spoon, and taste. If it's too sweet, add more soy sauce. Too salty, more juice. Too alcoholic, a combination of soy sauce and juice. After adjusting, add a splash of oil. In that, dunk in some well pressed chunks of tofu, and let marinate for as long as possible. I marinaded mine for about 15 minutes.

Stick the marinaded tofu into barbecue sticks (make sure to soak the sticks in water so they don't burn) and place them on a platter and spoon the marinade over. With the bowl of extra marinade, add in some sliced onions -- sliced into rounds, don't break them up! After this, slice some egg tomatoes into halves, and remove the seeds and the pulp; set those aside.

Place the tofu on a well-oiled and heated grill, preferably on an angle so you get nice grill marks. Spoon marinade over the tofu. After 5 or 10 minutes, flip the tofu over. Spoon some more marinade. After 5 minutes, transfer the tofu to a plate.

Carefully lay the onions on the grill, spoon some marinade over, and let cook for about 5 minutes. Carefully flip over (use tongs) and spoon more marinade. Cook until brown / black / crisp around the edges, and transfer to a plate.

While the onions are cooking, you should have added the tomato halves into the marinade and let sit for about 5-10 minutes. After the onions have cooked, place the tomatoes on the grill, cut side down. Spoon marinade on top. Flip after 10 minutes, and spoon more marinade on top. Cook for 5 minutes, and transfer to the tofu plate.

Pour the leftover marinade into a saucepan and simmer. In a small bowl, mix 2 tbsp. of flour or cornstarch and 2 tbsp. of water. Add this flour / cornstarch mixture into the marinade, and stir until it gets thick. Voila, instant barbecue sauce!

It probably took me 30-45 minutes to prep, cook, and serve the food. Don't you just love the fact that "undercooked" tofu won't kill you while undercooked animal flesh will? Meanwhile, the dead animal (for my omni family) took ages for the blood and rawness to cook out...

Kinda related to World Vegan Day / Lazy Saturday: I found Diet for a New America at a secondhand bookstore last week, for only P110 (US$2.30)! And it looked as new as any other book. I've been reading it regularly and it is just so riveting. It's a perfect read for a perfect World Vegan Day. I love that it presents well-researched evidence that the animal cruelty industries don't give a sh*t about us consumers; they're are out to make us fat and diabetic and give us heart disease and cancer, while torturing animals in style.

More on World Vegan Day Dinner in my next post...
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