Like clockwork every Holiday season, one of my kids is sick, running with fever, cough, colds and sore throat. Last year, it was my daughter. This time, it's my son. Just a few days ago, my husband and I were almost going to hit the "Book Now" button for our little New Year's Eve family escape in Tuscany but since our son had been coughing continuously, we waited for another day and check with his pediatrician first. Right on the dot, his temp soared up the following day. That means it's home for us folks. That also means I am cooking our New Year's Eve dinner.
31 December 2014
29 December 2014
I'm a very picky person when it comes to jams. I don't like them too sweet and we all know that most commercially bottled jams are usually overly sweet! That's because sugar serves as the preservative of the jam. The recommended ratio is always 1:1 with fruit and sugar. So a kilo of fruit would be needing a kilo of sugar too. And that amount of sugar sends me running away from the sweetness.
So whenever my fruit trees yield a good amount of fruits, I make my own jams at home. I have an annual appointment in the kitchen with my quince harvest. It is a peculiar kind of fruit because it is not pleasant to eat raw like what you do with its cousins, the apples and pears.
It took me years before I discovered that there is an Asian market right in the heart of Rome. Exactly 13 years if I can be precise. All those years, my cravings for the Philippine dishes I grew up with had to be completely ignored because I had no other choice but to get on with life without looking back. I looked forward and that was where I had a total immersion with Italian food. It's what my family eats and it is what I prepare at home. Sometimes, I push it substituting ingredients that I find at the supermarkets but it's never the same.
27 December 2014
I think I just gained 50 kilos with all the amazing food I have been eating and drinking (non-stop mind you). Christmas is wonderful with all the incredible food and excellent wines thrown together, all packed in a 2-3 day ultimate gastronomic hype. It's the only time of the year when extra special once-a-year-only dishes make grand appearances on the table. And the diets? Does that word even exist during the holiday season? No one even whispers that word around until after New Year. That's the only time when we start having good looks of ourselves at the mirror and notice the added inches in the waistline. But since we still have the New Year's Eve celebration just around the corner, I will not say the d-word yet.
24 December 2014
I won't make this long because I know that all of you are busy attending to last minute things before the eve and (maybe already for Christmas day if you are in Asia and Australia). I, myself, have a few minutes to spare before I gather my kids and get us all ready for our Christmas Eve celebration tonight.
It had been a splendid year for myself, my family and for Apron and Sneakers. There had been a lot of projects, new places that I photographed and a whole load of food and wine tastings. And you have been a big part of it because if you have not been following me around, Apron and Sneakers wouldn't still be around. So Thank you with all my heart! Great experiences and new friendships as I can sum up my year.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all of you my dear friends!
Yesterday, after a morning of running to bake the food I had to write and photograph, barely making it on time to pick up my daughter in school, photographing the food then running back to the school again to pick up my son, only ending up in the wrong gate to pick him up, I was ready to buckle up and nurse my tired self. There are days like this when things, unbelievably, pile up one after the other.
At about 10 minutes past 14:00, I walked back to the car with my son's heavy backpack on one shoulder. The kids were behind me, skipping towards the car and chatting excitedly. School was going to be out for exactly 15 days. After spending the past days going up and down for their Christmas recitals, frantic gift buying (we couldn't find our son's gift anywhere!), putting up our tree, fighting off our dog from eating all the decors and the tree itself, we were on time and ready for Christmas.
21 December 2014
The uglier they are, the better they taste. That's what my husband always reminds me about persimmons. I Love persimmons with a capital L. Truly. It is also one of the fruits that I can't wait for the season to arrive. It has a ephemeral season here so when they are out, I wait for a few days to pass to get to the real season then I scramble to stuff myself and my husband with the really ripe, squashed and quite ugly persimmons. I love eating persimmons that I chill in the fridge first, cut them in half and scoop out the soft flesh with a teaspoon. I don't really know what variety we get in Italy but if you see the orange-skinned delicate-looking ones that look like they are ready to explode, then that is the kind that I am speaking about. I did make a Persimmon and Yogurt Marsala Dessert once and it came out delicious but after that, I just concentrated on my persimmon scooping activity to enjoy the fruit without any other ingredients involved.
20 December 2014
What constitutes an awesome party? Heaps of great food and alcohol (if the guests are more than 18) and wonderful people. I have always loved giving parties ever since I was young, I mean really young. When I was given the green light to drink (I started earlier than 18), I spent the birthday money I received from my parents in giving parties instead of buying something material for my birthday. Sometimes, a little bit still remains that I get to buy a nice shirt or something. My Mom would always try to convince me to go for something I really wanted like clothes or electronics which I also love but parties win on my priorities hands down.
19 December 2014
Some vegetables are just meant to be tossed fast in a wok or saucepan with a few basic ingredients to attain that Asian touch. I had some garlic, soy sauce and sesame seeds to give the bok choy that Asian flavor that I had been longing to have. As much as I love Italian cuisine, the need to touch base with Asian food is a must sometimes. With bok choy fresh from the Asian market, the only way I cook them is a quick sautè with my basic Asian stash in the cupboard.
16 December 2014
If there is a dish from my childhood that I would like to keep on recreating, it has to be adobo. I love the contrast between the saltiness and tartness of the soy sauce and lemons with the unmistakable presence of garlic. It is the national dish of the Philippines and it has every reason to be everyone's favorite because it is just good. In fact, among all the Filipino dishes that I have introduced to my family, adobo always comes out the winner. No one says no to it and however much I put on the table, it always ends up wiped out especially when I cook the rice with the sauce.
15 December 2014
I was not impressed with myself with my first trial in cooking with couscous a few years ago. It became a soft mass of unidentifiable object. Surely, I did something wrong so I gave it another try but the outcome was the same after following the instructions to the dot. Cooking instant couscous doesn't really require so much cooking skills because you just soak it in boiling water and it swells on its own a after a few minutes. What I did find out is that I should use the one with good quality. With its history in mind, I knew I would find the right one eventually because couscous is widely used in Sicilian cuisine, especially in area of Trapani (western part) because its history is intertwined with a couple of North African countries namely Libya and Tunisia. For that, couscous is not a foreign ingredient in Italy. After knocking down another pack, I finally found the brand that I liked in the only shop where I can get good quality tapioca.
13 December 2014
Depending on how you look at it, you may cringe at the amount of bacon I used here or you may actually love it. I was 50-50. I don't shy away from using pancetta (Italy's answer to bacon) in my cooking because it never fails to give a kick of added flavor to dishes. But I think that this is the first recipe I ever made with a whole load of pancetta wrapped snuggly around the meatloaf.
12 December 2014
It's mid-morning and the kitchen smells heavenly. Why shouldn't it, with the oven roaring hot with bananas mixed with chocolate, rum and cinnamon baking inside. Can you imagine the smell emanating from that heat? It's one of those baking scents that makes the house feel homey like a waft of coziness embracing you. That is how I always imagined my house to be, where the kitchen stars as the heart of the house, where the family gathers and stay together.
11 December 2014
For someone who is not into fresh cheese and cream, you will be surprised if I say that I love burrata. I find the mozzarella and cream oozing out from its mozzarella shell purely irresistible. And my husband knows that because when he encounters some fresh products from Puglia (the Italian region where they are made), he buys a ball or two for me and mozzarella for himself. Between mozzarella and burrata, yes, I have a weakness for the latter which I love to eat with extra virgin olive oil drizzled over it and some tomatoes and basil if available. That, for me is a grand salad to be enjoyed with every bite. And I have 3 more recipes here that are reminiscent of 3 neighboring countries known for their Mediterranean diets. Greece, Spain and of course, Italy.
07 December 2014
The weather is such a downer these past days. I wake up to very gray skies, the sun sometimes comes out for a fraction of the morning then continuous drizzling comes to along with ugly dark skies. Sun, rain, wind, lightnings, these alternate themselves throughout the day. Sigh, I never saw so much rain in autumn before. I wonder when all these dark heavy clouds will leave the sky and finally clear up to the usual beautiful blue skies of Rome. The Mediterranean winter seems to be far from arriving from how the weather has been lately. It keeps giving me a reason to tuck everyone inside and stay away from the howling winds and from getting wet and cold. Even our dog understands that because he spends more time lying down in front of the heaters.
05 December 2014
The other day, I overheard my daughter ask my husband what carnivores are. It was a big word for a child of 4 (by the way, she turned 5 yesterday) so both my husband and I were proud and surprised at such a grown-up question. After my husband explained to her what it means, she then proceeded by saying that we are omnivores then like our dog because we eat both vegetables and meat. Stunned, I heard my husband exploding with shouts of Brava! She loves enriching her vocabulary in both Italian and English. Words keep her company in the afternoons she spends in front of the TV, Ipad and her drawings and she loves to associate the words she knows with examples in real life.
02 December 2014
Today, I had two slices of red velvet cake adorned with Smarties. It's my son's friend's birthday and his mom made him a lovely and delicious cake for the special occasion. Because I loved it, I went back to her for my second slice and I didn't listen to the calorie counter buzzing. In two days instead, my daughter is turning 5. That means that in two days time, I will be eating slices of chocolate millefoglie (mille feuille) birthday cake with the Paw Patrol dogs staring at me. Chocolate is her choice of flavor while millefoglie is my husband's choice of birthday cake. The two combined together in choosing the birthday cake can be dangerous to the calorie level. But birthdays only come once a year and to be around, perfectly healthy, is a very good reason to celebrate it.
01 December 2014
Roma Food and Wine Festival. I marked the date in my calendar. I wish I can mark all three days but I can only choose one day. I went for the opening day at lunch time with my husband while the kids remained with their grandaunt for the day. While they had their grandaunt's polpettine al pomodoro (meatballs in tomato sauce) which they love to high heavens, we had instead, an excellent lunch of food and wine pairings of Italy's best.
28 November 2014
I remember an experience an American friend of mine was telling me, that when he was asking for some grated Parmigiano Reggiano to sprinkle on his seafood pasta when he was in a restaurant here in Italy, instead of being handed the cheese, he received a short lecture from the elderly waiter about not mixing cheese with seafood. He was shocked and amused at the experience. And true to his word, the elderly waiter did not give him the Parmigiano Reggiano.
27 November 2014
If it is Made in Italy, it will get my attention and my support. Because utmost attention and care are always foremost in Italian gastronomy, I raise both my hands and give all my trust to the country that feeds my children with good quality food. There is a vast awareness of nutritional values, hygienic ways of preserving food, maintenance of high quality and keeping the gastronomic traditions. And for that, I know that my kids are in good hands in the kitchen. Foodes epitomizes all these.
26 November 2014
Nettles have always been considered the bothersome weeds at home. My kids (dog included) learned to stay away from them after experiencing the pain that comes after touching them. You know how those little ones are. They only listen to you after experiencing the pain themselves. The dog's yelp and shrilly shrieks of Mommy seal the promise of never going close to them anymore.
The thing is, we have quite an abundant growth of nettles around the house that I keep on pulling and throwing away. They are delicious with risotto (which I have to share pretty soon too) but my cooking with them is limited there. When I was in the Republic of Georgia last spring, one of the best dishes I had was a very simple and fresh tasting plate of sautèed nettles.
24 November 2014
It's not fig season anymore, I know, but I would like to share with you this very late recipe post that I originally created for Skinny Ms. about a month ago (when fig season was just ending). It is a very simple breakfast recipe that I think is worth taking note of when the figs pop out again, or better yet, you can also use other kinds of fruits that are good for grilling.
The sinking feeling I felt seemed like it was endless when I discovered that the pictures of this dish were nowhere to be found in my computer nor in my external drives. I have four to be sure. One I use regularly, that's always hooked to my computer all the time and three others are backups of the contents of my main one. Call it paranoia but if I didn't have these backups, I would have completely lost ALL my pictures. The latest external drive that I bought showed a flatline and I tried desperately a hundred of times to fix the problem to no avail. I got 98% of the pictures back from my backups and lost the other 2% and this dish in that little bracket of lost files. This is the only picture I have left. Sigh.
23 November 2014
The best part of this dish is when I snip off the string that ties the pouch. Then a whiff of the incredible scent of the sea and herbs greets me. Just for a few seconds, I close my eyes and enjoy the aroma of the contents of the pouch in front of me. The heat and steam intensifies the flavors that makes me think of only one thing. My, that smells fresh and healthy! I love seafood and if you make me choose between them and meat, I would choose seafood without blinking an eye.
21 November 2014
How unique is it to unwrap a big banana leaf and find out that your lunch is inside that package? You call this binalot in the Philippines and it means wrapped in the local language. Lunches were packed in banana leaves years ago then slowly, the styrofoam era took over and replaced these quintessential Filipino lunch packs. You can find almost any classic dish in these binalot packs and one of the popular lunches is adobo. Inside these packs are the meat or fish, accompanied with eggs and tomatoes. They are usually salted duck eggs (itlog na maalat) and they are eaten with fresh tomatoes. Since I cannot find them in Italy, hard boiled eggs are my only option.
20 November 2014
I admit, I am not the biggest fan of tofu. I only eat it in very selected dishes when the other flavors in the dish overpower it. Every time I cook tofu, the topic of going vegetarian ensues between me and my husband. He can, I can't. He wants to, I don't want to. I see that it is an idea that he has been toying with lately and I don't have anything against it. I can easily cook for him but the kids and I will have to stick to our omnivore eating habits for now. I believe that vegetarianism is every individual's choice of diet, not something enforced on them (unless it is for medical reasons). Both kids' favorite food is pasta con ragù or meat sauce and my daughter clams up when she is confronted with anything green on her plate so it is unlikely that they are turning vegetarians for now.
It's never a problem when I have a big leftover of ragù or tomato meat sauce because after having it with pasta, I use it for another meal again which everyone loves too. Those are rare moments when I don't hear any complaints of "again?" because even if it's the same old ragù, the whole thing is completely different. I use the ragù for filling up tortillas along with some feta and other fresh ingredients like tomatoes, lettuce and onions. It is so good that sometimes, I cook the ragù for making these fajitas then what remains goes to the pasta for our next meal.
19 November 2014
I still remember how desperate I was three years ago in looking for the purple potatoes in Italy. I searched the internet continuously until I found a UK online shop that sells them and ships to Italy. For days, I would visit the site and would almost hit the pay button but stop myself at the very last second because they were ridiculously expensive. I really wanted to have them but the price was seriously holding me back.
18 November 2014
Ho-hum. My legs are buckling, my back is tired and I can't wait for the day to end. There are moments when I feel like this after getting lost in the endless tunnel of household chores and work. When I am alone at home, I look for the quickest way to eat and restrain myself from grabbing a pack of chips (if there is one lying around) before I plop myself down on the couch. In moments like these, I just feel like taking all the shortcuts I can in preparing my meals but without sacrificing the nutrients from the food. That's the time when I search through my cupboards for something quick and easy to prepare. We all have our mainstays in the pantry shelves and in my realm, I always have cans of tuna, corn, tomato puree, beans and chickpeas. So for this dish, I grabbed a can of chickpeas, drained them and poured them on my plate.
17 November 2014
I am ALWAYS late for my chores every morning. How can time fly so fast? One minute I am bidding my family goodbye at the front door and the next minute, it's already time to pick up my daughter in school. I usually set my phone's reminder an hour ahead of time so I will be aware that my time is almost up and I can do the last-minute things before going out. One of them is a simple lunch that my daughter would eat. I can only count with my fingers the kinds of food that she willingly eats and sole is one of them.
16 November 2014
It's been raining buckets and the wind howling outside. And to think the weather forecast for today was sunny. Our potted plants and trees are all down as usual and but I am not as bothered as I was before because I just emptied all my calamansi lemon trees yesterday morning. They are all in a large bowl in the kitchen ready to be squeezed tomorrow for pitchers of Calamansi Juice with Mint that we all love at home. Having calamansi lemons in Italy in the middle of autumn is a novelty because these plants grow in warmer climates like in the Philippines. In fact, it's a part of a lot of Filipino dishes and dipping sauces.
14 November 2014
When I am faced with the challenge of making a recipe as skinny as possible, I look at all the fat contents of the recipe and replace them with leaner ingredients. Pork, of course, has to be the first one to be taken away. And it's a predicament for me because it comprises half of the meat in making the ragù or the Italian meat sauce. Then there is the pancetta (like bacon) that gives the ragù a better flavor but no serious health food conscious person would ever think of eating that.
13 November 2014
I had become obsessed with different kinds of rice once, wanting to try the colored ones, so I have some boxes of brown, black, red and regular whites in the pantry. The colored ones have strong nutty flavors and the fragrance pervades the kitchen like a natural nutty-smelling scent of those plugged fragrances. I love scents of cooking in homes because it makes them inviting and and yes, homey.
In this recipe, I used red rice and I kept the recipe as simple as possible by just combining the Asian-flavored chicken and the peas together with the cooked rice. You can even use leftovers if you want. Just remember to use the white meat to keep it healthy. Red rice contains anthocyanins which are a kind of antioxidant pigment. The nutrients don't stop there because it is also rich in zinc, iron, calcium and vitamin B. So if you are looking for a simple healthy meal of chicken and rice, this one is a good candidate.
10 November 2014
There are some things about traveling that gives me a wake up call in running to my kitchen as soon as I get back home. When there is a dish that I tried and loved so much that has to be replicated before the flavors completely disappear from my memory. It will never be exactly the same as the original one but at least the the flavors are there and the taste is similar and if I am lucky, almost the same.
08 November 2014
Yesterday, Italy announced code red on 8 of its 21 regions due to bad weather. As always, Liguria is one of the worst hit. I do feel for the Ligurians because they can't possibly get all the natural calamities that have been passing through the country lately. Tornadoes, mud slides, flooding, storms, gosh, you name it, they got it. I went there twice this summer and my family and I had been extremely lucky to get very good weather.
06 November 2014
The name caught me more than once when I was scanning my new cocktail drinks book. It was kind of amusing to have a Godfather drink and what's even better is that there is a female counterpart with the name (you guessed it!) Godmother. Both drinks are just simple mixtures of amaretto liqueur and Scotch whisky for the Godfather while for the Godmother, vodka replaces the whisky, both on the rocks.
When I took on the assignment to create different kinds of recipes for Thanksgiving, I was panicky. I love creating recipes. In fact, that's what I actually do. But not having Thanksgiving in Italy, I didn't know how or where to start. Conferring with the editor, I was told to create new ideas for Thanksgiving. Then I thought of the most reliable and fastest way to understand how I was going to start - through Facebook. I asked my North American friends what they usually eat, love to eat, and would love to eat. From there, I started to prepare for my Thanksgiving recipes and I didn't realize that it would actually be fun because it was like I was preparing a whole menu for my own Thanksgiving dinner for my family.
Did I ever tell you that leftovers make my mind whir more than usual? I have this need to see things in order like in the refrigerator shelves which always need organizing because there is a continuous movement of food going in and out. So an open package of lasagna sheets is something that required my attention and as I took it out, an idea crept into my mind.
05 November 2014
While I was in one of my wine classes a few months ago, I found myself sitting beside a woman who was noisily suffering from what our teacher was saying. We were onto food and wine pairing and we were in deep red wines which go well with meat. Apparently, our teacher was a hardcore meat lover and sometimes he gets carried away in describing some popular Italian meat dishes which he obviously loves and my squirming neighbor finds terrible.
What is that strange looking thing in the vegetable rack? My daughter asks me insistently while I was mentally checking if I missed a vegetable or not for the minestrone I was going to prepare. Done with my mental check, I turned to the vegetable she was referring to. That strange looking thing, my dear, is going to end up in our paper bag because I need it for a salad. The big, bulbous celeriac or celery root is delicious when combined with apples and walnuts in a coleslaw. It is a variety of celery that is grown for its edible roots, thus, it tastes similar to the common celery stalks.
04 November 2014
Sometimes I can't believe how fast time flies. I think my time stopped in September and the next time I looked (I mean really looked) at the calendar, it was already November. I had to tear away two months from the calendar hanging in our stock room. Too many things happened between those months, a cousin-in-law's wedding, passing away of my mother-in-law, birthdays, visiting friends, trips and just the daily grind that keeps me on my toes all the time. Life gives us bad things and good things but in the end, we are always grateful for what we have at present and that is what Thanksgiving Day is for.
The opening of the 11th Academic Year of ALMA happened almost a month ago and I know that I am
sort of very late in relaying to you about it.
It's my second time to take part in one of their important events and I
am genuinely happy about it. After putting myself officially in the
hands of Italy more than a decade ago, marrying into a big (and
animated) Sicilian family, having my own "little-mes", I have completely
embraced the Italian culture and gastronomy. I strive to learn and
dedicate myself in nurturing my own kids with what Italian gastronomy is
all about but not forgetting the importance of what their other half is
too. But this post is not about me. It's about one of the most
important culinary schools in Italy that represents the excellence of
Italian gastronomy internationally.
03 November 2014
Lately, I have been eating more Asian food that I usually do. Part of the reason why is because I had to create a series of Asian recipes. Of course, if they are cooked, then they have to be eaten too. Then the craving for more Asian dishes (even the ones that I am not obliged to cook) just overwhelmed me. My calamansi lemon trees are in full bloom again and when they are like that, I can only think of Asian dishes with dipping sauces. This rice doesn't require a dipping sauce but the meat or fish I eat it with definitely needs it.
02 November 2014
Rise and shine! We dedicate Sunday mornings to being lazy at home. It is the only day of the week when my kids, husband and I (oh, dog included!) leave our beds quite late. This morning, my husband and I woke up with our two kids squeezing in between us on our bed while our dog was looking for a spot for himself at the foot of my side of the bed. In the end, he settled on resting his head on my side. So that was how a late Sunday morning was for us. How about in your house?
29 October 2014
When someone asked me if the basic diet of Asians is really fish and rice, I thought about what we really eat. It's true that rice is staple like bread is in Europe or potatoes in North America. Fish, well, I think that person was thinking more about Japanese cuisine popularized by sushi and sashimi. Whereas in the Philippines, it's inevitable not to have fish because it has more that 7,000 islands and most of the country is surrounded by water. It's a true seafood lover's paradise.
27 October 2014
We always have to deal with leftovers. Always. When I pack away the leftover food in containers and put them in the refrigerator, I know that it will go to waste unless I think of a way to revive it again. My kids usually don't like repeats of the same dish so most of the time, I have to find new ways to create a new dish with what got left behind from previous meals. I usually resort to pasta or mixed rice dishes because with them, there are no limitations on what can be put together. The ideas are endless and it's the best way to start with leftovers.
25 October 2014
Sometimes, while speaking with my sister in an overseas call, we speak about food. Well, the truth is, I always ask her what she's cooking just to torture myself from thinking about the food that I have been missing from my days in the Philippines. In spite of being favorites, there are some dishes that I have already completely forgotten about. Maybe because I don't have anyone to share them with anymore or the ingredients are hard to find in Italy. But there are some dishes that I refuse to forget that easily. After all, they were a part of my life before. Let me start with this awesome fish dish, a traditional Philippine dish recipe born from leftover fried fish.
23 October 2014
I've decided to tackle the dreaded work of going through my kitchen and dining room drawers and cupboards. I had to get rid of the ones that I had been convincing myself I will be using for the past decade but never really touched. I think we are all like that anyway. We keep so many things at the back of our cupboards convincing ourselves that we will be using them one day but they just remain there unused. We reason out that some are too pretty or expensive to use so they are to be used only on special occasions but those occasions never arrive or some are just plain useless and it's a big a shame to throw them away. The bottom line is, we don't use them and they just clog our cupboards. This time I told myself that enough is enough. I'm cleaning up!
21 October 2014
The first time I encountered a croque monsieur was in college. It was in a simple, small restaurant that was not really the place where you would expect to find a French sandwich. After living and studying in the area for four years, I became a fixture in the restaurant and I have also tried every single entry in the short menu. I liked the croque monsieur and it had also been one of the favorites of everyone but it was just too heavy to eat all the time.