Saturday, April 30, 2011


Brace yourself for the attack of the cheesecakes. I give you not one, not two, but three variations of cheesecakes, all equally scrumptious in their own right. I had to wait to complete this post until now since I lost my picture of the last featured cheesecake. I finally had the chance to make it again this weekend so I have all that I need to do it justice.

Copyright 2011 LtDan'sKitchen Blogs
The first cheesecake I ever made was a chocolate cheesecake that I baked in the 1990s for my Dad's doctor who was also his best friend since they were in grade school. If my Dad was sick, he visits his friend, the late Dr. Salvador and viola, free checkup.  I never really knew how that cheesecake tasted as I gave the whole cake away. Since that time, I have not made another cheesecake since I could not find a good enough recipe to create a personal favorite, the blueberry-topped cheesecake nor did I have a usable kitchen in Manila. I baked the chocolate cheesecake while on Christmas vacation at home. Away from home, the Red Ribbon bakeshop in Manila did the baking for me to ease my craving of all things cake-related. 

Copyright 2011 LtDan'sKitchen Blogs
Fast forward to 1997 in Florida, I was able to purchase 12 volumes of a Women's Day Encyclopedia of Cookery for 50c per volume. On the entry for cheesecakes, there it was, a recipe for blueberry cheesecake. What was missing was a ring of whipped cream rosettes (which is something I'm able to do with my eyes closed) but that was it. Everything else looked exactly how I imagined a blueberry-topped cheesecake should be. When I moved to Michigan, a cult following was started  headed unabashedly by my Indian friend, Vasudha. She loves it as much as I love her chai coffee and if were not not for logistics, since we are always at different parts of the country, we'd be eating cheesecakes and drinking chai coffee everyday. As far as I know, I owe her 2 whole blueberry cheesecakes or probably even more. 

Copyright 2011 LtDan'sKitchen Blogs
Another cheesecake that I recently tried was the London Cheesecake by Nigella Lawson. This was her response to the classic New York cheesecake which I personally find to be too dense. Nigella's version being the domestic goddess that she is, is much lighter and yet packs a punch in terms of flavor. It is heavenly and very pristine to say the least. I have to say that there is a time for really dense cheesecakes, especially if you are visiting a big city and you bump into the Cheesecake factory. They sell cheesecake that looked like it was on steroids (based on how huge they are) in any flavors you can imagine. However, I still do prefer the much lighter and airier version for prolonged consumption purposes. 

Surprisingly however, Nigella has been the recipient of bad press from purists since there is actually a confection which is also called London Cheesecake. The catch is that it is technically neither made of cheese nor a cake. It is a puff pastry-based dessert with layers of frangipane and jam and topped with sugar icing and strings of young coconut meat. Personally, I prefer Nigella's version but I might one day try the other version which is in a word, intriguing.
Yet still another rediscovery is the chocolate cheesecake from another cooking goddess, Stephanie Jaworski of the fame. I made her Chocolate Cheesecake for my New Year's eve dinner party and those who tasted it really enjoyed how intensely chocolatey (is this a real word?) it was. I have modified the recipe just a tad to suit my preference but the original recipe I'm sure is divine in its own way. Stephanie for sure has kitchen-tested her recipe and I trust her recipes completely so you are in good hands.

So now, you have the hard task of deciding which of the three you want to try out first. Between the three though, you cannot go wrong with either one. All of them are quite different but oh so delicioso!

*Blueberry-decorated Cheesecake - Adapted

Crumb crust

11/3 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/3 cup white sugar

Mix all ingredients thoroughly and press firmly on bottom and sides of a buttered 9-inch springform pan.


2 packages cream cheese (8oz each)
1 cup sugar
2 tbsp flour
¼ tsp salt
4 eggs, separated
2 tbsp melted unsalted butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp grated lemon rind
1 cup full fat sour cream

1. Soften the cream cheese by beating it with the paddle attachment at 
    low speed. Gradually add in the sugar, then add the flour and salt. 

2. Add the eggs yolks, one at a time, beating thoroughly after each 
    addition. Beat in the butter, vanilla, lemon rind and sour cream.

3. Fold in the stiffly beaten egg whites. Pour into pan and bake in 
    preheated very slow oven (275°F) for 1½ hours or until firm. 

4. Remove from oven and cool on rack away from drafts. 

Blueberry Topping

2 cups fresh blueberries
2 tsp unflavored gelatin dissolved in ¼ cup cold water
2 tbsp water
3 tbsp sugar

To make topping, put 1 cup of blueberries in a saucepan with 2 tbsp water. Bring to a rolling boil. Press though a food mill or a sieve and return to saucepan with 3 tbsp sugar. Heat and add the softened gelatin and stir until dissolved. Chill until slightly thickened and spread on top of the cake and decorate with the rest of the berries. 

Alternatively, you can use the canned blueberry filling but I suggest you warm it up and add a tsp of vanilla and a tbsp of rum. It enhances the flavor and kills the processed flavor. 

To garnish with rosettes of whipped cream, take 1 cup of heavy cream and 2 tbsp of confectioner's sugar and a tsp of vanilla and whip to stiff peaks. Pipe rosettes using a pastry bag attached with a star tip.

*Women's Day Encyclopedia of Cookery Volume 3, Fawcett Publications, Inc., New York, 1966

Nigella Lawson's London Cheesecake

Copyright 2011 LtDan'sKitchen Blogs
The recipe for this cake is available on Nigella's website so there is no need for me to rewrite what is already a clearly described set of instructions. I followed the recipe religiously except for one crucial step. I let the cake cool completely before removing the sides of the pan. I also added an extra layer of whipped cream on top of the sour cream layer but this was just a personal preference. I've made the cake as is and it was wonderful. I prefer to serve this cake straight from the fridge. For some reason, room temperature cheesecakes just don't do it for me. 

Chocolate Cheesecake - adapted from

Copyright 2011 LtDan'sKitchen Blogs
Just like Nigella's cheesecake, the recipe for the Chocolate Cheesecake is available online at the website. There are a couple of things that I modified. The first revision I did was to change the crust. I've made two different versions of the crust the first being similar to that of the blueberry-decorated cheesecake with the addition of 2 tbsp of cocoa powder. The second version  was by using Oreo cookies (minus the filling) instead of the chocolate wafer crumbs as listed in the recipe. The second revision was the amount of chocolate ganache I used. I doubled the amount and added 2 tbsp of coffee liqueur. After covering the top with an even layer of the chocolate ganache, I whipped the remaining ganache until it was thick to allow me to pipe chocolate ganache rosettes all around the sides of the cakes.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Cold Soba Noodles with Sesame Seeds

Copyright 2011 LtDan'sKitchen Blogs
Lent and my abstinence from meat is over. To mark the occasion, I prepared a steak dinner but I had to somehow find a suitable partner to accompany my sad looking steak. It was then that I realized I had one bundle of soba noodles left in my cupboard. This idea had the makings of a marriage in culinary heaven and as such, it transformed a simple dinner into something more elegant.

Soba noodles is one of the few gluten and egg free noodles made from buckwheat and yam flour. This was a new ingredient to me until I saw it on Nigella's Forever Summer show four or five years ago. I also have had the accompanying book that was purchased after I religiously followed the show. The dish she presented is a fairly simple one made with just a handful of condiments to flavor these gungy looking noodles. Don't let the appearance fool you though as it really is very yummy. 

I'm thus presenting Nigella's Cold Soba Noodles with Sesame Seeds that I lovingly topped with slices of medium rare strips of steak. It was in a word, divine! As for the recipe, it is available on Nigella's website.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Babka, Oy vey!

Copyright 2011 LtDan'sKitchen Blogs
Ok, I promised that I'll divulge a shocker. Babka had been haunting me since I first heard of it in a tv show. What show, you might ask? Why "The Nanny" of course, starring Fran Drescher and Charles Shaughnessy. Fran's character is of Jewish extraction and they love food, to state the obvious. During one episode, they mentioned that folks in Yetta's home go crazy over babka and since then, I've always wondered what it was that made it a must-have food. And you thought I heard it from another favorite, The Golden Girls. Seriously!

I asked a student in the lab who is Jewish and he had no idea what it was and thought that I was talking about latkes. Well, I wasn't, since I've made latkes before and I think a sweet bread is very different from a potato fritter cooked in lard. It seems that fate finally intervened as browsing through the news on the web last week, a list of Easter breads were featured and the first recipe that came up was a babka. After further digging, I managed to find a blog that featured a babka with the following criteria: an excess of chocolate, butter and cinammon.  

Copyright 2011 LtDan'sKitchen Blogs
Following the directions carefully, I managed to bake my own version of babka. To add a bit of a personal touch, I added a tablespoon of espresso to the filling mixture. Anything with chocolate needs a coffee flavor in my opinion, something I've learned from the Barefoot Contessa herself, Ina Garten.

By the way, the recipe is from the blog, Smitten Kitchen. You should definitely check it out. The blog has tons of recipes and has received a ton of accolades.  


Copyright 2011 LtDan'sKitchen Blogs
In a word, adobo translates to comfort. And when it comes to comfort food, nothing beats adobo in my mind. This dish is one of the few things that I can eat everyday and not be sick of it five days later. I remember eating this dish not just for the meat but for the sauce as well. I could actually live off the sauce and quite surely skyrocket my carbohydrate intake through the roof. This is the main reason why adobo is considered a poor man's food. With just a tinge of the sauce mixed in with rice, it takes a very meager meal into something more satisfying. For this dish, it is all about the flavor and it has lots of it. 

Chicken or pork are the two main meat choices used to make adobo. If you cannot make up your mind, you can use both. Every region has a slightly different version of this dish but the main ingredients remain very basic: meat, vinegar, soy sauce and sugar. The rest are just incidentals that either enhance or give the dish a kind of regional stamp that allows you to savor it in different ways. Adobo can also range from having lots of sauce to barely having a sauce at all. The latter version was something my Mom used to make when we travel for the simple reason of ease of transport. Less sauce equals lesser chances of a messy spill.  

My Mom also made a version of adobo with beef but without the vinegar to pack me lunch at school. That was one of my favorite lunch meals ever. The version came about but it has nothing to do with her being a culinary enthusiast, it was simply born out of necessity. Both my Mom and my Dad worked so every morning, the food we have for breakfast is the food we pack for lunch and the beef dish my Mom developed allowed her to cook it at night with very little fuss and reheat it in the morning for an instant meal to go. I've described this to her when I went home for a visit but she could not remember how she made this dish at all and my feeble attempts to recreate the dish did not yield the result that I was hoping for. I also discovered that she now favored adding ginger to her adobo, something that I really do not like at all. I love ginger, just not in my adobo. 

My version is really a synthesis of a variation from my friends from Manila (they cooked adobo slightly differently) and from how we made it in our family as I remembered it. The thing to remember about this dish is that you can never go wrong with it. If you accidentally add too much vinegar, you can correct it later by adding just a tad bit sugar. If the sauce gets too salty for your taste, you can add water to thin it out and you have more yummy sauce to enjoy. I've also tried using fancier vinegars from red cider to balsamic to red wine and even raspberry vinegar. They lend a certain flavor to the dish but then again, it really depends on whether you like the extra flavor or not. Traditionally, cane vinegar is the perfect ingredient for this dish but since it can be a challenge finding cane vinegar here in the US, I have managed to make it work with regular white distilled vinegar. You can sometimes find Del Monte cane vinegar in the grocery but they are quite hard to find so don't beat yourself about this issue. It is a non-issue. Now, on to the recipe:

Adobo ala Danilo

 2-3 lbs cut-up chicken (remove the skin if you so prefer)
 4-5 cloves of garlic
1 medium onion, sliced thinly
2-3 bay leaves
4-5 tbsp soy sauce
2/3 cup vinegar
3-4 tbsp brown sugar
1 cup water 
2 tbsp vegetable oil
salt and black pepper to taste

1. Sauté the garlic and onion in the vegetable oil until softened. Add the
    bay leaves and sauté for another minute.

2. Add the chicken pieces and season with a pinch or two of salt and a
    few turns of black pepper. Brown on all sides (I get impatient doing
    this part so I usually skip it).

3. Add the vinegar, water and soy sauce and simmer over low heat
    covered for about 30 minutes. At this point, add the sugar and
    continue to simmer until the chicken pieces are cooked. 

4. Take the chicken pieces out of the pan and turn the heat to medium
    high and reduce the sauce in half. Adjust the flavor with salt and
    pepper and make sure you have a good balance of sweet, sour and

5. Return the chicken pieces and cook for another five minutes for the
    flavor to infuse the meat. 

6. Serve hot over steamed white rice.

The cooking time is based on the meat I used which is chicken. It will take longer if you use pork so adjust accordingly. Also, if you combine both chicken and pork, just remove the chicken pieces early to allow the pork to finish cooking.

Leche Flan

Copyright 2011 LtDan'sKitchen blogs
I don't really remember when or where I first tasted leche flan but it must have been at one of my Mom's school parties. She was a first grade teacher and I always tag along with her whenever they have a school affair when I myself have no class and did not want to be left alone at home. Their affair always included a party for the teachers and their guest of honor and as the son of a teacher, I got a free pass. Let's just say I developed a taste for this simple dessert from my sporadic encounters with it. Our family never really made leche flan for special occasions because one, my Dad's favorite dessert is *buko fruit salad. Secondly, we always ordered a cake from my Tita Warlet so there was no need to panic over not having a dessert to serve.

I was able to experience more versions of leche flan when I went to collge in Manila. I knew of people who actually made the dessert. There was just one problem: it seems that the recipe is a closely guarded secret. A good friend of mine, Dinah, makes really awesome leche flans but she would never tell me how her family made them. I can't pretend I understand the reason behind the secrecy but out of friendship, I respect their decision not to share. My frustration over this dessert was only assuaged by the fact that it is readily available in major cake stores for a reasonable price so if I needed a fix, I bought one.

The first time I tried to make leche flan was when my friends and I were graduate students at the University of Florida. We were craving leche flan but since it was not available to buy, we did a bit of research on the internet until we found a promising recipe to try out. I remembered it being a Friday night and it took us four hours to make it but the overall result was just a tad shy of awesome. It was very sweet but the texture was perfect. I finally managed to make some additional revisions to finally come up with my recipe that is quite fool-proof. A flan may not be your idea of a cake but do give it a chance and you might find yourself hankering for it.

On the issue of what condensed milk to use, I prefer the La Lechera brand as it seems to have this really thick texture compared to other available condensed milk. I have tried using the cheapest condensed milk and it does not really affect the final product so there is no need to fret. I also bake my flan bain-marie as opposed to steaming. You just have more control when you bake it. Just make sure that you submerge the baking pan ¾ of the way in a water bath. This is where a turkey roaster doubles as the water bath. Also, make sure that you use hot water for the water bath. There are several flavored variations of leche flan but I'm going to stick to the original version for now. I think perfecting the original version is a good place to start and once you know the basics of flan making, fiddling with the recipe to suit your tastes won't be a problem. 

Copyright 2011 LtDan'sKitchen blogs
Leche Flan

6 egg yolks
2 large eggs
1 can evaporated milk
1 can condensed milk
1 + ¼ cup white sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. Take one cup of sugar     and melt in a 9-inch
    round pan over a low
    flame. Be patient and
    go slow to avoid burning the sugar. You want to caramelize the sugar
    so that it coats the whole pan. Use more sugar if needed to achieve     an even layer of caramel. Let cool and set aside.

2. In a large bowl, combine the rest of the ingredients. With a wire
    whisk, mix the custard mixture until the eggs are fully incorporated.     Do not beat.

3. Pour the custard mixture though a fine sieve over the caramelized
    sugar in the 9-inch baking pan. Cover with foil.

4. In a preheated oven at 300°F, bake the flan bain-marie for one hour.
    Check the flan by jiggling the pan (yes, jiggling is a technical culinary
    term) to determine if the top middle layer is set. Continue checking
    every 10 minutes until you are confident that it is of the right

5. Remove from the water bath and let cool to room temperature. Once
    cooled, chill it in the fridge for at least four hours.

6. To serve, run a knife on the side of the pan and invert onto a tray.
    Spoon out the caramel sauce on top of the flan. 

* buko - young coconut meat

Monday, April 18, 2011


Copyright 2011 LtDan'sKitchen blogs
Tirami-sú means "pick me up", a dessert that will surely pick you up when you are feeling sad, tired or just in a bad mood. My first taste of tiramisú was way back in 1999 when my Italian colleague Drew and his wife Jen invited a few of us to their home for dinner. She made it with ladyfingers she bought from the grocery store and it was too good I had to try out a version on the next Filipino party we used to have every Sunday after mass. I went on the internet and found a random recipe and well, it came out terrible. I got rum-happy and added way too much it tasted too bitter to be edible. I had to chuck the whole tray. It will take another year before I will have the chance to purchase Sophia Loren's cookbook on a trip to Miami with my friends and on my first try of her recipe, my tiramisú came out great. At that time, I was using store-bought ladyfingers as well as cream cheese, not mascarpone. It will take me another two to three years before I finally synthesized a perfect version of tiramisu, this time with freshly baked ladyfingers and with mascarpone. This recipe is actually from Sophia Loren's secretary and is a simplified version of the dessert. I have to say I've made some pretty complicated versions of this cake before and I always come back to this one. The simplicity is one reason why I love making this version and the other is that in terms of flavor, it is equally good if not better.

The recipe for the ladyfingers was a recipe I found online. It has been my go-to recipe for anything with ladyfingers and it never fails to impress. I have made some changes to it by adding a tsp of vanilla per batch and I lower the baking temperature to 375°C and bake them for about 8-10 minutes. I make sure that when they come out of the oven, the tops are light golden brown and they spring back when you lightly tap them. If this is too much work for you though, a good store-bought pack of ladyfingers will certainly do as well. If you are feeling adventurous, double the recipe to fill a 9x13 glass baking dish. Double the recipe given below as well except for the liqueur. I actually halve the required amount of liqueur and coffee as I want my tiramisú to be more cake-like and not too soggy. So for double the recipe, I only use half a cup of both the liqueur and the espresso. This is to taste so if you want to add more, go for it. 

Also, the mascarpone cheese comes in 8 and 16 oz tubs. I use all 16oz for my mascarpone mixture and adjust the rest of the ingredients accordingly. Also, a word of advice to those who are not into baking regularly. When you make the mascarpone mixture, beat the egg whites first before beating the egg yolks with the sugar. The residual egg whites on your mixer paddles do not affect the egg yolks but vice versa, it is a disaster. 

Copyright 2011 LtDan'sKitchen Blogs
*Tiramisú -adapted

3 eggs separated
5 tbsp sugar
6 oz mascarpone cheese
1 cup orange liqueur ( I    actually prefer Kahlua,    a coffee liqueur) 
1 cup espresso coffee
2 oz bitter chocolate, grated
unsweetened cocoa powder

1. Combine the egg yolks and sugar in a medium-sized bowl and beat them     well until it doubles in size.
2. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites to stiff peaks. 
3. Combine the mascarpone with the egg yolk mixture then fold in the beaten     egg whites.
4. Spoon a  thin layer of the mascarpone mixture and arrange a layer of the     ladyfinger on top of it. 
5. Using a spoon, drizzle about half of the liqueur and espresso over the  
    ladyfinger. Cover the ladyfinger with the mascarpone mixture and grate     half of the chocolate and a dusting of an even layer of cocoa powder. 
6. Lay another layer of the ladyfinger on top of the first layer and repeat the
    same process except for the dusting ofcocoa powder. Cover with a plastic     wrap and store in the fridge overnight to allow the flavors to meld.
7. When ready to serve, slice a piece of the cake and garnish with a generous     dusting of cocoa powder. 
8. Serve with fresh berries when they are in season and a steaming hot mug     of coffee or tea.

*Loren, Sophia. Sophia Loren's Recipes and Memories. GT Publishing Corp. New York:1998

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Pancit Sotanghon

Copyright 2011 LtDan'sKitchen Blogs
Pancit is a very popular dish that is a staple in every Filipino celebration. Any birthday, fiesta, baptism, wedding or even a trip to the beach almost always warrants the presence of pancit. The term is actually a generic name to all things noodle-based and it would take me some time to realize that there are different variations depending on which part of the country you come from. Growing up, my family always made pancit bihon using bean thread noodles with pork or chicken and a slew of vegetables. Another simple dish commonly served for dinner at our house is sotanghon (cellophane noodles) usually cooked with canned sardines, a favorite of my Dad's.

Moving to Manila, I was able to experience pancit canton, luglug and palabok. Canton is made with dried egg noodles while luglog and palabok are made with thick rice noodles although they vary in the sauce used. A favorite of mine is pancit sotanghon cooked with chicken strips (or shrimps), wood ear mushrooms, green onions, roasted chopped garlic and seasoned with calamansi juice (a much more intense citrus similar to a key lime but not as bitter). In most cases, they also serve this with slices of hard boiled eggs. This has definitely become a must for most office parties due to the fact that it is much easier to package and deliver compared to the other variety. Also, for somebody trying out their culinary skills, this is definitely a good place to start. 

Tania, my Danish penpal of 26 years (yeah, penpals still do exist although we have updated the snail mail writing with Facebook) caters to groups of people and she requested that I send her a recipe of this dish when she saw it posted on my Facebook page. That was last year and at that time, I didn't really keep a written recipe of dishes that I know by heart. It is only now that I finally decided to write this one for her. I always felt bad that instead of writing down the recipe for her, I gave her the link to one of my go-to sites when it comes to cooking Visayan (the generic term of the province where I grew up) food, Manong Ken's Carinderia. I sure hope that this somewhat detailed summary of making this dish will make up for my shortcomings to a wonderful and loyal friend. 

Pancit Sotanghon (Dan's version) 

2 lbs dried cellophane noodles (or rice vermicelli noodles as long as they are of the clear variety)
4 cups shredded cooked chicken meat (white or dark)
1 cup wood ear mushrooms (only if available, otherwise, use shitake or just omit)
1 onion, peeled and sliced thinly
4 - 6 cups chicken broth
2 tbsp canola oil
salt and pepper to taste
sesame oil
1 to 2 tbsp of fish sauce (optional)


1/2 cup green onions, sliced thinly
1 bulb of garlic, (cloves peeled and chopped finely)
6 hard boiled eggs, peeled, cooled and sliced into wedges
lime, lemon, key limes or calamansi (depending on your preference or availability), sliced into wedges

1. Take 2-3 lbs of chicken and cook in a large pot with 6 cups of hot
    water. Add an onion, a few stalks of celery and a carrot sliced in  
    large chunks and flavor the broth with salt and pepper. Make sure  
    you get the bone-in chicken pieces as this makes a much more  
    flavorful broth. I also prefer dark meat but a combination of  
    both white and dark meat will work. Adjust the flavor of the broth so 
    that you get more flavor in both the meat and the broth. Once  
    the chicken is cooked, remove from the broth and cool. Skin and     shred the meat. Set aside. 

2. Over low heat in a large non-stick skillet or wok, toast the garlic in   
    the oil until golden brown. Remove garlic from the skillet and lay flat  
    in a paper towel and set aside. Add the onions to the garlic infused  
    oil and saute until transluscent. Add the chicken meat and mix until  
    the chicken is coated with the oil. Add 4 cups of broth and let it     simmer.

3. Add the dry noodles and mix well. Lower the heat to give the  
    noodles enough time to absorb the broth. Add more broth if  
    necessary until the noodles are fully cooked. You can also add hot  
    water if you run out of broth but check for flavor and adjust     accordingly.

4. Adjust the seasoning with salt, pepper and fish sauce (if using) and  
    drizzle in the sesame oil (a few passes will do as the flavor is quite  
    intense). Some prefer to use white pepper instead of black pepper  
    so do be cautious at is it easy to overdo the spiciness with the  
    white pepper. This is definitely not a spicy dish.

5. To serve, arrange the noodles on a tray then gather the chicken  
    pieces at the center and arrange the greens onions and the boiled  
    eggs decoratively around the chicken pieces. Top with the  
    roasted garlic and place the wedges of citrus on the edges. Have     one citrus wedge for each serving.

6. To eat, spritz a few squirts of the citrus into the noodles and enjoy!  
    Best served warm.

Copyright 2011 LtDan'sKitchen Blogs
I hope this semi-quantified recipe of sotanghon will inspire aspiring cooks to try out their culinary wings. It is an easy enough dish to make and very forgiving to a novice chef. 

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Carrot Cake

Copyright 2011 LtDan'skitchen Blogs
I'm a late bloomer in terms of appreciating carrot cake. The first time I heard of this cake, I was weirded out by the thought of a carrot being used in a cake, let alone, be the star. I've seen the cake, looked at it and even if it looked good, I never really ordered or even tried it. I was very loyal to my two favorite cakes, the Black Forest cake and the Blueberry Cheesecake. It was a cooking magazine that actually inspired me along with the prodding of my good friend Mara (who also happens to be an excellent baker), to finally try it out. The recipe I used was obtained from a special edition of the culinary publication, Food Magazine that featured a compilation of select recipes that were a favorite of the subscribers. It was then that I grew to love this cake.

Copyright 2011 LtDan'skitchen Blogs
I bought my own copy of the magazine special but made the mistake of giving it away to another friend. I did not regret the gifting part, I regretted not buying an extra copy for myself. That was stupid on my part. I did ask my friend whom I gave the magazine to, to type up the recipe for me and I have kept it on file for years now.  I've made some minor adjustments to the original recipe but as it is, it is very good. The original recipe is actually available online but I'll retype it to include the changes I made. The last time I baked this cake, it was as a birthday gift so I fancied it up with white chocolate ribbons. It is not imperative to garnish the cake as I did unless you are feeling adventurous. 

*Custer’s Carrot Cake - Adapted

2 cups cake flour, sifted
2 cups sugar
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp salt
1 cup vegetable oil
4 large eggs
3 cups shredded carrots
½ cup applesauce or crushed pineapple
1 tsp vanilla

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease two nine-inch cake pans and line with  
    waxed paper. In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking soda,
    cinnamon and salt. Blend in vegetable oil and the applesauce. Beat in
    eggs, one at a time, then mix in carrots and vanilla (paddle     attachment on your electric mixer.)
2. Pour batter into prepared pans. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until cake
    tester inserted in center comes out clean.
3. Let cool then frost with cream cheese frosting.

Cream Cheese frosting
16 ounces cream cheese, softened
½ c (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 pound (454 g) confectioner’s sugar, sifted (I use the least amount of sugar so if your frosting holds it's shape, don't add the whole amount. I go cup by cup up to 3 cups.
1 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp rum
1 cup walnuts, finely chopped
zest of lemon (optional)
1. In a medium bowl of an electric mixer, beat together cream cheese
    and butter. Gradually add the confectioner sugar and vanilla, mixing
    well until smooth and of spreading consistency. Add the rum and the     lemon zest if using and mix well
2. Sandwich the  two layers with about a fourth of the frosting. Frost
    the cake with the remaining frosting. If desired, sprinkle walnuts on
    sides of cake. Store any extra frosting in the refrigerator.
*Delores Custer is a food stylist and is the author of this recipe.

Bacolod, the City of Smiles and Sweets

I grew up in Bacolod City in the province of Negros Occidental. It is one of the bigger urban cities in the country and is a place that I will always call home. My family are actually transplants from another province close by but most of my family are in the province of Negros Occidental. If Italy resembles a boot, Negros looks like a sock divided in two, the Occidental (west) and the other half, the Oriental (east). It might mean something or just purely coincidental but it may explain my preference for Italian food. The cuisine of my hometown is very simple and dare I say humble in most respects but they are satisfying and gratifying. I'm making this analogy (it is a stretch, I know) because watching Lidia's Italy has shown me a more authentic side of the Italian cuisine which is made up of fairly simple dishes based on what is available in their soil or water, something similar to what I experienced growing up. 

One other thing that makes my province stand out is that it is referred to as the sugar bowl of the Philippines. Well, at least that's what it was referred to in the 80s during my elementary years. We are the main source of sugar for the country with sugar plantations dotting the province some of them dating back to the early 20th century when the country was still under Spain. As a result, our local cuisine is relatively sweet in flavor. Apparently, this has also translated into the people as our mode of speaking is considered to be very sweet and soft in tone (yeah, totally not me).

The moniker "The City of Smiles" came about due to the negative press the province received during the 80s when the sugar industry took a hit after corn syrup was introduced in the US. Batang Negros (Child of Negros), a picture of a young emaciated child of sugarcane workers became the poster child of the hard times the city and the whole province was experiencing. To combat this negative stereotype, the MassKara Festival was organized spearheaded by local artists to showcase the spirit of the Negrense. With masses of people dancing on the streets wearing masks showing bright smiles, it was sending out a message that despite the hard times, the Negrense will survive and triumph.   

My city also boasts of sweet goodies that are quite of large demand all over the country. One of the favorites is the butter scotch bar the recipe of which is a very well-kept trade secret. Only one other favorite rivals the butter scotch in popularity and that distinction goes to the piaya. For my kumare (mother of my godson) however, it has to be Napoleones from Roli's. Now, to elaborate on these treats:

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Butter Scotch is best explained to an American as a Blondie, a non-chocolate version of the brownie. It is not quite a brownie though as it is very dense with a very buttery taste. I've been using a recipe I obtained about two years ago from my good friend Butch whom I've known since we were 5 years old. He however swore me to secrecy so I cannot share the recipe on this blog. However, I just recently received a packet of butter scotch courtesy of another friend who went home for a visit a few weeks back and the ingredients are quite different (I've taken a mental note of this before but I just forgot about it). Despite the fact that I love my own version of this treat, the original just cannot be beat. I am therefore going to try it out again and once perfected, I'll be happy to share the recipe unless in the spirit of being a true blue Bacolodnon, I keep my mouth shut and lock the recipe in a vault somewhere.

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The other treat is the piaya. My friends in Manila go crazy over these little pancakes made with muscovado sugar (raw sugarcane sugar), flour and butter. This little gem can be found all over the city and are now sold in several flavors. I grew up seeing them in the market place so I paid little attention to them until I left home for college. Only then did I appreciate how good they were and how much I missed them. I used to buy boxes of these babies for my friends and they could just not get enough of them. A recent convert is my friend Amanda who loved them after I gave her a few pieces to try out. She suggested I try making them which prompted me to look for recipes online. I did find one and an even better news is that I found a video on YouTube on how to make these treats. This is definitely a project in the works after I can stop by the Co-op to buy raw sugar. It will be expensive just like their mung bean which sells for 4$/lb (it is dirt cheap back home) but it will be all worth it if this experiment works. 
My version of Napoleones
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Napoleones, the last but never the least of the three is a local delicacy that is heavily influenced by the French pastry mille-feuille. It's history and how it became a signature pastry of my city is unknown but these treats disappear in a flash. They are best ordered a week before to ensure that you get your fix of these treats when you have a craving for them. Roli's makes the best Napoleones in town and that is all I'll say with regards to this matter. I've made my version of this pastry a year ago and despite the fact that it tasted great, it was still a far cry from the original.

Whew! With my appetite all whetted up, "Mahaw ta!" (Let's have a snack!)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Soba and Miso Soup

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I had the craving for soup this weekend when the weather couldn't make up its mind and kept changing from rainy, to snowy then sunny all in one day. Since my favorite soups are usually made with meat to flavor the broth, I had to come up with something other than pea soup or roasted squash soup. Miso soup with soba noodles was a good choice since I have a tub of miso in my fridge and the fact that I found Soba noodles in my local Smith's (Kroger to those who live in the south). I just needed to amp it up and shrimp balls as a garnish seemed to be the way to go. Sadly, the shrimp balls were gone before I could take a picture to post them here. I also modified the recipe by not adding the lard and ginger.

Soba is either served as a cold noodle appetizer with a dipping sauce to flavor them or served in a hot broth with your choice of toppings. I went for the hot soup with the addition of a mix of wild mushrooms and  bamboo shoots topped with bean sprouts, green onions and a sprig of cilantro. A few reminders on how to prepare this soup: 

1.Cook the soba noodles as per packet instructions. 

2.Vegetable broth was my soup base and once at a simmer, add the   
   mushrooms and the bamboo shoots to cook them just until tender.  
   Adjust the flavor with salt and pepper. Miso is a bit salty so don't
   overdo the salt. A dash of ginger powder (or a slice of fresh ginger)
   can be added as well.

3.The miso is added at the very last minute with the pot off the stove.  
   Never overcook the miso as it loses its delicate flavor. Thin out a  
   couple of tablespoons of miso paste with about a cup of the broth and 
   return to the pot to mix. Check for flavor again.

4.To assemble the soup,  arrange a nest of the soba noodles in a bowl  
   and top with bean sprouts. Pour the broth and arrange the vegetables  
   on top of the noodles. Top with the green onions and a sprig of

5.Hold off on the the sesame oil. It is tempting to add it in but you lose  
   the delicate flavors by doing so.

6.Serve with shrimp meatballs. I had some extra cooked shrimps on  
   hand so I added that as well prior to adding the miso. 

Simple and light yet very elegant and tasty as well.