Category Archives: Dining

My simple taco recipe for Christmas Eve

My taco recipe comes from last year’s Noche Buena menu.

Usually, during Christmas Eve, we prepare food that we can serve the next day. It’s for random people who visit our house for the usual “pamamasko.” But, last year, I was too busy with my new work. So, my mom and sister decided to “outsource” our Noche Buena feast for that year.

Despite that, my sister still insisted that I should at least prepare two dishes. It’s like her request for me to cook her favorite food. I obliged, since it’s always been my tradition for us to cook our family dinner anyway. She wanted ttaco recipe Philippinesacos and fried chicken. My mom knew my ingredients for fried chicken so all she had to do was to put everything in the turbo broiler.

My taco recipe is also simple. If you’ve been reading my posts, you’re now aware that my sister is a picky eater. Anything fancy would come under tight scrutiny. The more simple the dish is, the more she’ll appreciate it.

It’s ok to combine ground pork and beef if you so desire. That’s what I do on ordinary days, as it’s cheap and tastes almost the same. But, on special occasions, I’d say you can splurge a little and use 100% ground beef.

So here’s the recipe for my Simple Taco. I’m going to use 1 kilo of beef here, but if it’s too much for your family, just make the necessary adjustments.

Ingredients

Taco shells (soft or hard)
1 kilo ground beef
2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese (substitute: EDEN cheese)
1 medium size onion, diced
5 cloves of garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
Shredded lettuce
Diced tomatoes
Grated EDEN cheese or any cheese that you fancy (for Christmas, since we had an abundance of queso de bola, I combined EDEN cheese and queso de bola for the topping)

Procedure

In a bowl, mix the ground beef, salt and pepper and the 2 T of grated parmesan cheese. Remember, since we’re putting in cheese, you might try to put just a little amount of salt at a time. You can always adjust it as you taste. Then sauté onions and garlic until they turn translucent. Add in the beef, cook for about 15 minutes or until the beef is tender. You can add a few teaspoons of your taco sauce if you want, but I prefer to keep it simple.

The rest of the ingredients will be assembled by the diners. This is why eating tacos is fun! It’s like building your own castle. But don’t overdo it, especially if you’re using the hard taco shells. Your taco skyscraper will just spill all over you. Oh, and a word of advice: use a plate or have a tissue in hand when eating a taco 😉 Hope you enjoy my Simple Taco recipe at your Noche Buena!

This post was written by Rita Salonga.

My favorite dessert spots: spotlight on cupcakes!

I went to Singapore last year. And when I’m there, I usually eat my way around the city. That time, it was no different, but instead of eating Laksa, Satay, and Chicken rice, I decided to try the Singaporeans’ take on dessert.

I have to admit that even though my last trip to SG was a couple of months previous, I saw a lot of culinary improvements. I don’t prefer eating at fancy restaurants. I do like dining in them, but occasionally only. I’m more into street fairs, markets and even food courts.

I was still in sugar-rush mode even after a few days have passed already. I had to let go of my obsession with Xiao Long Bao because we went to Grandma’s. It’s local food alright, but what’s nice about it is that it’s located inside the foodcourt. We didn’t bother ordering dessert in the same place. Instead, we walked around the food court and bought whatever our eyes fancied.

They had cupcakes, breads, cookies, ice cream, milk teas, and all that jazz, but I was really surprised that I found a lot of chocolate in Singapore. There was an overdose of chocolate wherever we went. Esplanade Mall even had a Max Brenner.

What caught my attention was this tiny cupcake store called “Twelve Cupcakes.” It was a local store and it didn’t really have that much of a selection. But honestly, even if they were only selling two or three flavors, I would keep on buying from them. They were that good!

The reason why I’m elated over dessert is because I don’t really bake. It’s really not my thing, which frustrates me a lot because I love eating desserts. The most decent thing I’ve ever baked was pandesal. Well, I can make bread. Maybe it’s because of the kneading or that it doesn’t really entail that much measurement, but yeah. I can make bread but not cakes. Go figure!

I’m sharing with you some of my favorite cookies and cupcakes from all over the world. I really hope that one day we’ll get to sit down and eat and share our cookie/cupcake experience.

Martha’s Country Bakery

This one is located in New York, USA. I’d always go to their Forest Hills branch because it was near my home. Every week, I’d buy different types of dessert, but I’d always get their cookies and cream cupcake. They also have red velvet and those big chocolate chunky cookies.

Magnolia and Crumbs (New York, USA)

These are two different stores but both are found in the city. I love that Crumbs live up to its name. Their cupcakes are moist and crumbly. They’re also big enough to share. And as usual, red velvet is my top pick.

Magnolia’s cupcakes are good because they’re not too sweet, just enough to satisfy your craving for cupcakes.

Twelve Cupcakes (Singapore)

This you MUST try. The one that I went to was at Bugis Junction. I was still trying to control myself from going back to Singapore after we already ate the last cupcake we brought home from the trip. Too bad, it’s a local brand and there is no news about a franchise here in the Philippines. Their red velvet, salted caramel, and chocolate cupcakes are really good.

Sorry to say that I can’t recommend any place here in the Philippines. It’s not that I don’t find their desserts yummy but I often forget the restaurants or stores because they’re just too many of them.

Banapple is one of my faves, but it serves mostly cakes. So if you have any suggestions, feel free to leave me a note and I’ll try them one of these days.

This post was written by Rita Salonga.

New Year’s and the new cheese I’ve found

When I was a kid, I’d make a list of all the things that I want, need, and the changes that I have to do for the new year.  But just halfway through the year, I throw the list away because I can’t even seem to do half of what I wrote.

It’s frustrating to actually have something so concrete in your thoughts but ending up as a failure when you put it into actions.  Not sounding pessimistic here, but as I grew older, I realized that it’s better to set your expectations realistically than to wish for something grand and end up with nothing.

So, as the new year approaches, instead of making a list of new resolutions, I listed all the things that I’ve accomplished and achieved in the past year.  I was happy to know that most of what I’ve prayed for came true, and more.  Of course there were disappointments, but still, what mattered to me was that 2012 was my best year.

One of the many things that I found fascinating too was that I’ve discovered some good eats throughout my 2012 journey.  How could I forget food, right?  I love my cheese, but I’m very picky with what cheese I eat because aside from being lactose intolerant, my body is just weird that way.

cheese slice 01
Move with the cheese!

But since it’s the Christmas season, our house is full of queso de bola.  This I munch on like regular chips.  So, a friend suggested that I should try Queso De Bola Cheesecake.  Queso de bola and cheesecake are two of my favorites in this lifetime, so I said, “send me one!”  Lo and behold, that cheesecake was to die for! I heard that there’s this good pastry girl who’s known for her queso de bola cheesecake, hopefully soon I’ll be able to taste her version.

Another new found thing for me is my tolerance for chicken.  I like chicken, but to eat it every day is not really what I call healthy eating.  But for the past holiday season, I’ve been craving for it almost every day.  Good thing my office is located near a food center.  Even the crew knew me already as “Miss Combo Meal with Extra Gravy.”

Now that it’s the New Year and up next is summer, I vow to lose all the unwanted weight I gained during the past two weeks. Imagine that! I’ve only been indulging myself for 15 days and yet I have to work doubly hard on the treadmill.

It’s not about looking good, or feeling guilty about what you ate.  Going to the gym is one way of keeping you healthy.  I don’t go to the gym because I want to look beautiful or be thin; that was never my motivation. I run on the treadmill because with my type of work (i.e. mostly sedentary), I need a form of exercise.  I need to sweat once in awhile so that I can have a well-balanced life.

So, who needs any more New Year’s resolutions?

This post was written by Rita Salonga.

Snacks and childhood memories

When I was I kid, I loved going to church because after that, my mom would treat us to our favorite ice cream parlor (typical kid! :P).  We wouldn’t eat anything out of the ordinary, just vanilla for my sister and banana split for me and my mom.

In high school, I would watch what I spent from Mondays to Thursdays because every Friday, my service mates and I will eat at our favorite fast food joint.  Again, nothing expensive: just fries and a sundae.

My childhood is peppered with happy memories. And, as you may have already guessed, most of them include food.  This isn’t to say that I’m a glutton for food. It’s just that whenever I think of a specific food or restaurant, some memory from my life pops up.  And sometimes, I eat a certain dish not because it’s delicious, but because it reminds me of someone or something in my life.

Now that I’m a working girl and that my taste buds have become more mature, I still occasionally crave for some of the fun food I had when I was younger.  Well, now I get to eat them without my mom scolding me to brush my teeth afterwards. Or her telling me to drink lots of water after eating ice cream.

Yan Yan

I love this cracker that you dip in chocolate.  I know that there are better-tasting brands than this, but there’s something about Yan Yan that reminds me of my childhood.  It’s like all of us ate and enjoyed this snack when we were little.  I don’t know anybody who didn’t like Yan Yan.

Hopia

My family is not Chinese, but we never ran out of hopia in our household when we were kids.  I particularly like the ones that my mom bought at the market, though my younger sister insists that those are dirty.  Oh well, we call the ice cream being sold in the streets as dirty ice cream and yet we still eat it, so I guess it’s the same thing with the hopia.

I like monggo hopia.  I don’t really like the newer flavors because I’m too content with the monggo.  I feel like my ube belongs to my halo-halo or with some crackers, but as a flavor for hopia… Well, to each its own.

Durian chips

I’m not sure if they sell this certain brand everywhere, but I really love durian chips.  Actually, I like durian.  Even with its foul smell, I’m down with it.  The first time I ate a durian I was in Singapore.  I wanted to scream my lungs out when they offered me the fruit.  But I couldn’t refuse because that would be very rude of me.  So I closed my eyes and prepared for the worst, but I really ended up liking it.

So when I chanced upon the durian chips, I just had to taste them.  They’re now in my top 10 favorite junk food of all time.  They’re a little bit expensive, so I don’t really eat them often, unless my sister or my mom buy them for me.

These are just some of my favorite snacks.  I haven’t even made my list of my favorite dishes—maybe next time.  And please do share with me your favorite snacks too.  I’m sure I’m not the only one here who tries to reminisce their childhood with food.

This post was written by Rita Salonga.

My movie slash foodie date nights

I’ve barely had time to go out these past few months. Aside from the fact that I really need to save up, work’s been consuming most of my waking hours. I seriously wonder how working moms do it. I’m not a mom yet and still I feel like I’m always exhausted at the end of the day. Truly, these women deserve an award.

On with my story. I love watching movies. But ever since I started with my new job, I’ve already missed more than a dozen films. I already don’t cook regularly and now, I’m also missing my movies?!? I guess “frustrated” is an mild word if we’re talking about how I feel these days.

I’m thankful for the Internet because at least, I get to watch videos once in a while. Don’t worry, I don’t like to illegally download stuff. I’m content with whatever’s available in the Internet for free. And believe me, there’s a lot. Cable TV helps too. Most of the foreign channels show recently-released movies, and I’m happier when they show those independent ones. I’m a sucker for foreign Indie movies. So, since I can no longer go to the movie houses, I end up bringing the movie house to the comforts of my own room. Well, to be precise, to the comforts of my living room.

That’s because I eat while watching and I don’t like bringing food inside my room. I feel like if I eat inside my bedroom, aside from the smell sticking to all its four corners, ants will definitely appear out of nowhere. And that I seriously abhor.

My normal movie night will consist of junk food, water (I avoid drinking soda) and sometimes chocolates or pastries. But nothing that will produce so much crumbs. I don’t want to end up with crumbs all over my shirt after the movie. I also like fruits, but they take a little more preparation because I have to peel them before the movie starts. That and they make me feel full easily so I end up asleep before the movie ends.

But, in my opinion, fruits and movies are a good combination for people who need a vitamin boost. My sister isn’t fond of fruits. But whenever I prepare them for our movie night, she’d end up eating most of it. Wouldn’t it be great if you could do that for your kids? Make them watch their favorite cartoon shows while you give them something healthy to munch on. They wouldn’t notice it, believe me! My sister is my perfect example of that.

While watching a movie too, I can multitask. I don’t know how I do it, but even when I’m doing 2-3 things at the same time, I can still focus on the movie. Since I bring paperwork home, I find myself working more effectively when I’m in front of the television. But this is just me. Kids shouldn’t be watching TV when they’re doing their homework. For working people like us, though, sometimes time is really the enemy. If you can multitask, then I think that’s an advantage.

I realize that complaining and sulking about my now-busier life won’t do me any good. I can still do all the things that I love—I just need to learn how to compromise. Life is never just simple and it really isn’t that complicated either. We just have to learn how to put things in perspective. Now, on to my next movie.

This post was written by Rita Salonga.

Enjoying food isn’t about the binge

food marketI get to travel a lot. And of course, one of the reasons why I like travelling is that I get to taste different kinds of cuisines.  But I’m still wary of what I eat.  I may be experimental, but I’m not suicidal.  The world of food is very interesting to me but it’s not my extreme sport.  I’m not a glutton either, but I do love the smell and look of food.  I find happiness in a loaded buffet the same way I get giddy whenever I’m at a food’s market.

In the Metro, there are certain markets that only open during weekends.  I have to wake up early and drag my friends to Salcedo Market just so I can see fresh produce and other independent shops that offer mouth-watering dishes.

My friends and I would save enough money ever the week so that we can buy items that are only being sold in these type of markets.  That’s what we do when we visit Merkato.  We don’t eat dinner, and when we get there we walk for a few minutes before eating.  We’re sure when midnight strikes, we’re already quite satisfied.

Good food doesn’t have to be expensive for you to enjoy it. When you go to an ordinary market, chances are there are eateries there that serve fresh, hot-piping dishes.  And I’m sure that they used fresh ingredients.  When I’m in New York, I eat like a typical New Yorker, breakfast will be a bagel and coffee while walking towards the subway.  Lunch would be Filipino food because I worked in a Filipino restaurant, but dinner is either a slice of bread and or whatever’s left over in the fridge.

If I’m in a new place, I try to go where there are a lot of people lined up.  Either that place has great food, or it’s cheap, either way, that’s a good find.  But kidding aside, I try to research on the place and look for its popular dishes and restaurants. I’m more interested in a country’s cuisine rather than its tourist spots.

I don’t eat or crave for food just to satisfy my hunger.  Food for me is like shopping to some people.  I find comfort in it.  I don’t necessarily have to eat it, but it makes me happy to experience new dishes and or new tastes.

This post was written by Rita Salonga.

Coffee: is it good or bad for your health?

Ever since I could remember, I’ve always loved coffee. No matter how much I love my frappuccino, I still prefer coffee hot even on a warm day. I used to take it BLACK. Just plain coffee, no sugar and no milk. But then, I started feel palpitations hehehe 🙂 Seriously, I thought that if I’d drink coffee often, I should at least enjoy it with sugar and a little bit of milk or creamer.

People who know me would often send me free/complimentary 3 in 1 coffee mixes, and to be honest, I can be a perfect endorser for some of these products. Not like with my chocolate cakes, I drink almost any brand of coffee. Of course I would have my favorites, and coffee is really much better if it’s brewed, but I’m a very mobile person so I just bring packets of instant coffee mixes with me.

Since I need to know what I put in my body, I did some research about coffee. I was surprised that there’s a lot of difference when you French-pressed it instead of using the ordinary paper filters. One leaves more oil therefore there’s a big chance of raising your bad cholesterol when you drink it often.

There’s a lot of debate about whether drinking too much coffee is good or bad for your health. There are also studies conducted by several universities to prove that coffee consumption is either detrimental or beneficial to one’s health.

While reading some of the results, I was analyzing my own health. Am I really over doing my intake of coffee? How much is too much? Which is healthier, hot or cold coffee? These questions kept on popping in my mind while reading.

Well, one study shows that drinking coffee will lessen one’s chances of having Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. That’s a good thing, right? And oh, in Taiwan, research showed that coffee actually helps in preventing Type 2 Diabetes.

These are just about coffee… I haven’t even touched on the subject of regular coffee (caffeinated) and decaf. I can’t stand the taste of decaf; I feel like I’m cheating myself with it. It’s like you’re drinking coffee but you’re not. Maybe it’s a psychological thing for me, but I do want to be informed on exactly what the differences are between these two.

Caffeine is a stimulant. Therefore, some people drink coffee to keep them on their toes. But for someone like me whose blood is half coffee, I don’t get stimulated by coffee anymore. But I don’t really have a normal sleeping time either. My dorm mates, on the other hand, depend on coffee whenever they need to be up all night.

Help me with this please, because as much as I would want to continue with my coffee habit, I still consider my health as my top priority. Maybe if you know something about coffee, we could exchange ideas in here, and maybe share some recipes too. I don’t normally bake, but I know espresso really makes a difference when baking anything with chocolate. ‘Til next time!

This post was written by Rita Salonga.

Missing the kitchen… and my baon!

No kitchen in my dorm!
No such kitchen in my dorm! 😦

I don’t like it when I can’t cook, or when I’m staying in a place without a kitchen. Cooking’s always been my “escape”. I cook when I’m happy, when I’m sad, and when I just feel like it.  So imagine if I have to stay somewhere without a spatula or even a fridge?

My life’s been turned upside down for the past month. I started work with this special project, its grown-up stuff… meaning, boring and really, not related to cooking.  I moved back to my old dorm and even though I feel comfortable in it, there’s one thing missing: the kitchen. My dorm don’t allow any form of cooking, well, aside from the instant cup noodles that you just pour hot water in, there’s no way I could sneak in a portable stove without them noticing it, or smelling it.

Every day, I feel like I’m in a scavenger’s hunt for the food that I want to eat and bring to work.  Yes! I prepare my baon because my schedule is weird and when I work, I usually don’t like being bothered.  I live near a university, so food is really abundant.  But I’m also wary of the many possibilities that these foods are not properly prepared.

So, every day I try to look at the food, not caring if the customer next to me is annoyingly tapping her foot while waiting for me to finish my order.  I make a mental note of the food they offer that day, and if I decide to go back the next day, I’ll look at their menu and see if it’s a re-hash of yesterday’s offering.

I’m really not picky, but I do know the look of food when it’s fresh and it’s already been a day’s old.  I remember when I was still in high school. I don’t like bringing lunch boxes to school. I had that period where I wanted to look cool in front of the other students, so I would line-up in the cafeteria and scout for whatever piping hot food they had to offer.

For moms out there, maybe it’s added work if you pack your kids’ lunchboxes, but it’s always better to be safe than be sorry later.  I know cafeteria food is not as bad as it seems, but there’s just too much junk food available to your kids, and you’re not always there to regulate how much of it they take in. So, I suggest give them something nutritious to combat whatever junk they’ll put in their mouths come lunch time.  A packed lunch with some protein, carbs and a little amount of sweet will help your children get through the day.

Don’t worry, it might take time for kids to get used to having packed lunches, and they might even say that “it’s so not cool” bringing lunch kits at school, but believe me, they’ll get used to it eventually.  And if they’re hard-headed, just bring out your “mothers know best” card. I’m sure they can’t argue with that.

This post was written by Rita Salonga.

It’s a grilled night-out

Dining out can be taxing at times. It feels a burden sometimes to think of where to eat, and or what everybody wants to eat. We usually end up in the same restaurant, eating the same food almost all the time. We’re often caught up with the idea of settling with our “favorites” instead of trying out something new. Location is also something that we consider, especially here in Pampanga, where there are but a few restaurants that actually serve good food.

A couple of days ago, we were celebrating two occasions, so we wanted to try something different. We’re tired of eating food that’s peppered with so many ingredients and been sitting in marinated sauce for awhile. Korean Barbecue came into mind.

Korean Barbecue or better known in Korea as Gogigui literally means grilling meat. You order whatever meat you want, including fish and seafood and they serve it to you raw. Your table is equipped with a griller in the middle and you cook your food yourself.

My sister likes to do Gogigui because it makes her feel like she can actually cook. I like it too because I’ve always considered grilling as one of the healthiest forms of cooking. In Korean Barbecue, most meats are given to you as is, not soaking in marinated sauce and or coated with so many herbs and spices.

In the Philippines, Bulgogi is one of the more popular forms of Gogigui. But you should know that there are different forms of Gogigui depending on the meat that you’re grilling. I personally love Galbi and Chaldolbegi. The meats are thinly sliced and are not marinated in any sauce.

But I find that the Japanese raised this form of grilling to a higher level, by way of Teppanyaki and Hibachi. I like going to Hibachi places because there’s a chef in front o f you who will do all the cooking while you watch your food getting cooked. If you’re into Japanese cuisine, they also have their own version of Korean barbecue. Theirs is called Yakiniku. There’s actually an ongoing debate on where grilled meat originated: was it really the Koreans who first introduced it, and then adopted by the Japanese, or the other way around? If you ask me, this is like the issue about the chicken and the egg—a debate that will never end.

If you want, you can try this at home. There are personal-sized grillers that are being sold in the market. Prepping is a little bit tedious, but imagine the fun your family will have at the dining table, cooking your own food and eating it straight off the grill.

This post was written by Rita Salonga.

A restaurant’s downfall

I was supposed to share with you another recipe, but while trying to write the article my sister stormed inside my room complaining about her experience during dinner. She was attending a baby shower party and they decided to hold it in a decent restaurant. It was a party of 25. I don’t think it was that big of a deal. I should know, because I used to be an assistant cook and front of house (FOH) for four years in a restaurant. This is nothing compared to a party where you actually have to close the whole restaurant.

She was fuming because it took two hours for food to be completely served. Not to mention that the things they ordered are not out of the ordinary. Provided that they did not order in advance, but you can’t make your customers wait for two hours. That’s just awful service.

When I was in charge of FOH, I always tell my servers and cooks to NOT make the customers wait for long, and if the dish they order would really take time to be prepared, you have to tell them in advance so that they could decide whether they’re willing to wait or opt for something else. As an asst. cook, I usually work with an extra cook plus a grill man. But even with two extra set of hands, sometimes you get rattled by the influx of orders, that’s why prepping is very important.

I start my day earlier than the rest. I see to it that all vegetables are chopped, rinsed and are within reach. I also thaw ingredients that needed to be thawed. I had a couple of experiences where I served grilled seafood and it’s still cold inside. I wanted the ground to swallow me whole during those times. Never would I serve anything that would put my and the restaurant’s name in shame again.

Back to my sister’s experience in this restaurant: the manager said that the orders took long to be cooked because they only had two cooks working that night. That’s a lame excuse! Only big restaurants have a lot of cooks and chefs, a typical restaurant usually only have two working cooks at a time. Some restaurants forget the value of kitchen dynamics. They blame everything on few manpower and peak hours.

If you work at a restaurant, you know that there are certain hours in the day that you will be very busy. So, I don’t see the reason why a group of 25 is different from serving people during peak hours? Restaurant owners and managers alike should take into consideration that food will be served fast if there’s an expediter to take care of the business in the kitchen.

An expediter make sure that the orders are announced, food is being prepared, plated and delivered to hungry customers on time. Work will be a lot easier and there will definitely be a system. I don’t believe in quantity when it comes to kitchen staff, it’s always about quality. And I guess that restaurant doesn’t value quality, nor do they even care if people go hungry because of them. What’s even more appalling was the fact that they were asking them for service charge, since they were a big party. If I were the manager, I would’ve given them desserts instead, free of charge of course.

Dining out is supposed to be a culinary experience. A restaurant’s life span is so unpredictable because there’s so much competition out there. And for one restaurant that wasted those 25 customers they had, your guess is as good as mine on how long their doors will be open for business.

This post was written by Rita Salonga.