28 September 2007

Golden Cheesecake

Here is a recipe so simple that I wrote it down on a text message. When I get excited, I tend to spend a lot, and then I end up completely broke. That's when I managed to pirate this recipe out of renowned Chinese pastry chef Arron Liu's Desserts 1 book. My text message reads as follows:
340 cheese 60 sugar 2 eggs 10 lemon 70 butter 160 water bath 40 mins
My God, what does it all mean? Fortunately, my instructions here won't be as cryptic. But it will be almost as easy. If you have all your ingredients at room temperature, you can finish the batter in one bowl in 5 minutes. And it will be much easier (and much, MUCH better) than any gelatin-based or instant cheesecake you will ever have. (Recipe follows)
Golden Cheesecake
If you have a weighing scale, you can make everything in (almost) one bowl, so there's little cleanup. I just bought a Japanese digital kitchen scale for PhP1000 ($22 or £10.90)! It's so cute. Cute and deadly accurate. If you don't, I have the usual volume measurements here.

In a bowl, add 340 grams (12 ounces or 1-1/2 packages) room temperature cream cheese and beat with a hand mixer, stand mixer, or with your big, burly, Popeye-esque arms until smooth, like a thick peanut butter. Add 60 grams (5 tablespoons) granulated sugar and beat until well-combined. Add 2 whole large eggs and beat until smooth. Add 10 grams (1 tablespoon) lemon juice and beat until well-combined. Add 70 grams (5 tablespoons) of melted butter and beat until smooth. Batter's done!

Unlike "floured" cakes, there's no fear of overdeveloping anything in this batter, so feel free to beat it until there's no lumps.

Chef Liu used a special rectangular dessert "ring" which had no bottom. This batter is too scant for a springform pan, so I used a regular loaf pan (7-1/2 x 3-1/2 inches or 18cm) lined with one sheet of aluminum foil bent to cover all sides. If you have a pan with different dimensions, don't worry; just look out for signs of doneness. Place the loaf pan inside another larger pan and fill the larger pan to 1cm below the rim of the smaller pan with boiling water. Carefully place the whole set-up into a preheated 160°C (325°F) oven and bake for 40 minutes. What you're looking for is for most of the center to jiggle slightly. Take it out of the oven (and out of the boiling water) and run a thin knife all around the sides, then let cool completely. Chill until quite cold, then lift the aluminum foil with the cake out of the pan and serve.

26 September 2007

Portobello Mushrooms Stuffed with Sausage

(Funghi Portobello Farci con Salsiccia) You know you're a food nut when spotting giant Portobello mushrooms at your local grocery excites you so much that you don't care about the price tag (okay, maybe just large, but where I come from, they're quite impressive). So, four of these 4-inch (rounded up) babies cost PhP190 ($4.20 or £2.08). Not bad considering I've been aching to make stuffed mushrooms just as good as Italianni's or better (especially since those tiny things are so expensive). I've discovered that I'd sooner trust a food blog than about.com or something impersonal, especially since they might as well have copied those recipes out of an unreliable book. So I was lucky Deb at Smitten Kitchen once made stuffed mushrooms, so I didn't have to be afraid. BUT-- the recipe is something I threw together. Gotta have the meat in there. I'm a guy. (Recipe follows)
Portobello Mushrooms Stuffed with Sausage
I made too much stuffing. This is good for 6 large portobello mushrooms. Clean the mushrooms all around. Ideally you should use a special vegetable scrubbing brush, but some people also recommend a damp paper towel. I find that there's a lot of gook to these mushrooms, so I make do with what I have and gently use a Scotch-Brite. Don't overdo it as the mushrooms are kind of delicate. Remove the stalk gently and place them gill side down in an ovenproof glass dish, then bake in a preheated 400°F (200°C) oven for 15 minutes.

While they're baking, get to work on the stuffing. The idea was to use a meatball-type mix, but as we forgot to buy ground pork, I used what we had in the house-- Garlic Sausage (I would have preferred to use Italian Sausage like what they put on pizza, but I'm still searching for the proper name so I can ask for it at the deli). Get 3 of them and slice roughly (we had maybe 5-6 inch ones). Mince a clove of garlic. Chop the stalks of the mushrooms roughly.

I picked this one up from Deb: the tomatoes. You can add a tablespoon of tomato paste to the mix, or you can do what we did and soak 8 sun-dried tomatoes in hot water for 5 minutes (skip the soak if they're oil-packed), then take out and dice.

Here's the weird part. We don't have a food processor (friends! Now you know what I want. Just kidding). I used a blender, of all things. But it works, more or less, even if the shape of the pitcher is not ideal. Load the mushroom stalks, sausage, and garlic into your food processor, or batch by batch if using a blender. Pulse (at the Grind setting) until you can't recognize shapes any longer. Place the ground crap in a bowl and add (and this is all eyeballed, by the way) a quarter cup dry bread crumbs, a tablespoon of dried Italian Seasoning (er, Marjoram, Basil, Parsley, and Oregano, I think), a chopped-up quarter cup of flat-leaf (Italian) parsley (a small bunch), the diced tomatoes, a quarter cup grated mozarella cheese, a quarter cup grated Parmesan cheese, a healthy dose of fresh-ground black pepper, one small egg, and though I didn't use it, it could really use a bit of salt (by dad says it's not needed. Up to you). Take your clean hand and squish everything together.

Take out the mushroom caps out of the oven, invert them, and load the stuffing on top. Sprinkle the top with even more grated Parmesan cheese, drizzle with olive oil, and bake again at the TOP rack of your oven for 25 minutes, or until brown, crusty and cracklelicious. (That last adjective was to make it sound less of a skin disease.) Serve as soon as you can!

25 September 2007

Fisherman's Horizon

This is a direct digital recording of me playing "Fisherman's Horizon" off the Final Fantasy VIII Piano Collections songbook. I don't know why I was so nervous as there's really nothing riding on me playing this, but I made a whole bunch of mistakes that I didn't do a good job of covering up. Also, right after the part where the music gets soft and quiet, the piece becomes too complex for me to memorize, so I'm going to have to figure out how to jam it into my mind (...someday). In the meantime, I just threw caution to the wind and regurgitated a few parts so the song would be complete.

Click here to listen to my shitty playing.

Why did I choose this particular piece? Because it's an awesome melody and I don't have the chops to play any of the higher-tempo pieces. (I barely have the chops to play this one; in fact I think it's downright fugly.) Also, my fingers began to get really tired after playing it multiple times, trying to get it without errors. The irony of it is, it's the first one that probably had the least errors as I wasn't tired and overthinking it yet!

23 September 2007

Really Dumb Things I Like

(Also known as: guilty pleasures.) I think I have impeccable taste. I'm not sure any of my friends will say that I don't. But every now and then, it doesn't hurt to enjoy something that you know is really stupid, but somehow the elements come together beautifully.

1. America's Next Top Model. This show was actually voted as 2007's most guilty pleasure on the TVphile website Television Without Pity. Sure, the winners' successes are rare, the best models get axed for "not wanting it enough," most of the girls are kind of homely, and the photoshoot concepts are incredibly stupid (pose as a famous celebrity couple! You play both people, wearing the world's cheapest, ugliest wigs!), but every now and then Tyra Banks gives you a gem of a television moment (for absolute craziness) and you may even find a girl who's plain looking but models like a dream. I'm talking about Michelle Babin, one of the twins of Season 7, whose picture is above. I know she's a lesbian (or bisexual?) but I really am obsessed with her.

2. American Idol. Half of the winners have limited success. The runners-up fare worse, but sometimes they give a middle finger to the show and actually do much, much better. In the 12 finalists, you can find people with insipid voices, horrible personalities, and fugly looks, but somehow pulling charm out of their ass and making girls cry. But really, I just want to critique their singing/ phrasing/ bad song choices. And sometimes you may also find incredibly beautiful voices that are really so good you kind of tear up. I saw Elliott Yamin singing during his Ayala Mall tour at Glorietta. His voice is unbefuckinglievable. (Note, in the video above, how he points to his eye on the phrase "do I really see..." Cheesetastic!)

3. Sailor Moon. The bane of every true-blue anime lover. Somehow, she risked transforming into her alter-ego in front of the enemy for what must have been 2 minutes, and still ends up looking like her original self! And the magic is that no one can tell it's still her! Not to mention the constant spinning incorporated into each special attack. Worst of all was her really annoying personality. But I enjoyed following the (mis)adventures of 5 (+5) friends battling youmas (monsters) with inexplicably large breasts. Not for that reason, perv! Most of the time the stories were really awful, but there are a lot of weird (though less funny) episodes that were poignant. Who knew?

4. The two big movies of Stephen Chow- Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle. Oh God. I just bought a video CD of Shaolin Soccer as it's an incredibly hard-to-find movie in home video. Fifteen minutes into the movie, there's a dance sequence. Seventeen minutes into it, there's horrendous karaoke singing with the protagonists dressed as Shaolin monks. But these two movies are both very critically acclaimed, and with good reason. The fighting scenes are much, much better than the slowed-down crap of American martial arts films (er, like The Matrix), and the anime-style comedy translates to live action with hilarious results. Also, on the video above, Donut (Mr. Staff guy) is insanely cool. (He moves like Seung Mina of Soul Calibur, eh?)

5. Spice. Yes, just the first album. Graeme will probably think I'm a huge bed-wetter but there's something very charming about putting 4 horrible singers + 1 so-so singer together with results that shook the core of pop music during its time. Maybe it's how their distinct voices that wouldn't make it solo (erhm, see: the present) blend into something quirky and, honestly, a lot of fun. The Spice Girls' first album had one hit after another, and in fact a really good song in my opinion, 2 Become 1. Of course, by the second album, they took themselves far too seriously (yes, even at that rate), the songs were quite meh, and Victoria was looking more retarded than ever, pointing all the time at nothing.

6. McDonald's. Their burgers are flat and have nothing more than a pickle and minced onion to accompany their sad patty. But I love them. I can't go for maybe a month without having one. Their spaghetti doesn't sell as well as Jollibee's but I prefer it. And the french fries.... OH, THE FRENCH FRIES. Guilty guilty guilty. Top it off with a strawberry shake and I'm your slave for a few minutes.

22 September 2007

Apricot Cocoa Cake

This is a cake I made from extra dessert stuff at home I didn't want to waste by, well, throwing away. I had an extra cocoa loaf cake from making Faubourg Pavés for Genie's mom (hi Tita!) and extra bittersweet chocolate ganache from making truffles. Compound that with the fact that Vany pressured me to bring a dessert to Genie's post-medicine party and here we have an improvised dessert. And you can tell that I'm a real wordsmith by the very imaginative name I gave it. I thought it might have been too pretentious to call it "Manggy Cake" or something, especially since chocolate and apricot is a pairing the Austrians are well-familiarized with. It's my first time to make and use rolled fondant or sugarpaste. That stuff is nastily sweet, but when it comes to the artsy cakes that are in vogue nowadays, it's a must for every decorator. (Instructions follow)
Apricot Cocoa Cake
There's a way to get more filling into your cakes than if you slice it horizontally in half. Just cut a wedge from the top; it does take a little care and skill with a knife. Out of boredom, I calculated how much more filling per slice you get:

Scary, no? The Pythagorean theorem rules. Anyway. Cut your cocoa cake loaf as such, and fill the chasm with apricot preserves. Replace the top and paint the outside with ganache. Place the cake in the refrigerator in the meantime.

I pirated my sugarpaste recipe from "Essential Cake Decorating," I forgot the publisher. I just copied the ingredients to my phone and remembered the gist of the methodology. In a microwaveable bowl, sprinkle 5 teaspoons gelatin onto 3 tablespoons warm water and set aside. Measure out 125mL liquid glucose (find it at the baking supplies of a well-stocked grocery) and 1 tablespoon glycerine (found at the drugstore). Ideally, the recipe should be in weight, not volume, since liquid glucose is just a step less viscous than the glass jar it comes in. Its consistency is the same as the glue from a glue gun, after it's cooled. In other words: it's a bitch to measure out in clunky measuring cups. Anyway. Combine these with the gelatin water, mix a little bit, then microwave at HIGH in 15-second increments, mixing in between, until it's fairly homogenous. Take care not to boil it.

In a bowl, add 1kg of powdered (icing) sugar. Yup. It is VERY sickening. Make a well in the center and pour in the glucose-gelatin mixture. Mix the ingredients with your hands, as it's very hard to mix with a spoon. When it's fairly combined, dump it out to your kitchen counter and start kneading until it's very smooth and looks like white modeling clay.

Divide the paste into 3, then color them any way you want using gel colors (I used Wilton sky blue and lemon yellow, leaving the third one plain). Knead the colored masses until the color is well-distributed. Divide each into 8 and roll into a snake. Place the snakes side by side very closely, then roll over them with a rolling pin to form a thin striped slab. Drape it over the cake and trim the excess.

21 September 2007

Stir-Fried String Beans With Sa-Cha Sauce

I've hit a strange stop on my food odyssey. Just yesterday I had my first taste of Azuki Bean ice cream from Häagen-Dazs. It wasn't bad, but it was exactly as I'd imagined bean ice cream would be like. Starchy, slightly powdery, like ube ice cream (which I despise) but with a milder flavor. Recently I made minestrone again for my mom's party, which was a hit, and here I have a Chinese dish of string beans. Again it's from the eGullet forums courtesy of Ah Leung, and the recipe I've outlined here is exactly the same. (Note: I wish my brother would come back from Italy already. The CCD of this damn Canon Powershot A70 is shot and the pictures are leave a lot to be desired.)
Stir-Fried String Beans with Sa-Cha Sauce
Wash about 0.75kg string beans, and trim the ends and cut into manageable lengths. Mince 5 cloves of garlic and wedge 1 medium onion. Slice a chili pepper (I used 2 very disappointing siling labuyo, or heaven-pointing chilis. Looks like its "pointing" was very flaccid, even with the seeds intact).

In a wok over high heat, heat 3 tablespoons cooking oil. Add the garlic, chili pepper, and 5 tablespoons Sa-Cha sauce. Ah Leung recommends the Bullhead brand. Cook for 30 seconds. Add the onion and cook for a minute. Add the string beans, 1/4 cup chicken broth, and 1/4 cup water. Put the lid on and cook for 10-15 minutes. I actually did not keep the lid on as the recipe directed because I wanted my string beans to be dry, though they do absorb quite a bit of water anyway.

What I would adjust in the recipe is the salt. I would actually add a teaspoon in with the chicken broth next time as the Sa-Cha sauce (maybe I should add more too, next time) didn't spread around too much to impart its flavor. But all in all, it's nice to have your veggies once in a while.

16 September 2007

Imperial Shrimp

It is my personal belief that people who don't like seafood should be beaten with sticks until they reconsider... Fish sticks, that is. Just kidding (obviously). As I was going through the recipes on the eGullet forums, I came upon the Chinese section and chanced upon this gorgeous dish from resident expert Ah Leung. It looked so appetizing, I just had to try it. So I made my way to the Chinese deli (more on that later) to get the numerous sauces I need. That's the total downside to Chinese cooking. You're going to need a whole pantry of sauces that may not see the light of day again (I praise those who manage to go through a bottle of Hoisin Sauce in 2 months). The recipe I've written here is exactly the same as its creator's, but I devised a system so I wouldn't be confused as I went along. (Recipe follows)
Imperial Shrimp
Peel, decapitate, and devein 1/2 kilo of medium shrimp. Stir in a bowl together with 1/5 tsp salt, 2 tsp cooking oil, and 2 tsp cornstarch. Set aside in the refrigerator for 20 minutes.

Prepare 3 bowls. In Bowl 1, add 5 cloves minced garlic, 1 tbsp grated ginger, 1 tsp chili sauce (I used Lee Kum Kee), and 2 tsp Chili Bean Sauce (can find this at the Chinese Deli or at a good supermarket like Megamall Bonus or Unimart). In Bowl 2, add 2 tsp white vinegar, 1 tsp Chinese cooking wine, 1/4 cup chicken broth, 3 tsp sugar, and 15g tomato sauce. In Bowl 3, dissolve 1/2 tsp cornstarch in 2 tsp water.

In a wok over high heat, add 3 tbsp cooking oil and wait till the oil is very hot. Add the shrimp and cook for about 3 minutes or until the color is orange-pink. Remove the shrimp from the pan and drain.

In the same wok, pour in the contents of Bowl 1 and cook for 15 seconds. Pour in the contents of Bowl 2 and bring to a boil. Pour in Bowl 3 to thicken the sauce. Add the parcooked shrimp back in the wok. Continue cooking for 1-2 minutes. Transfer toa serving dish and top with chopped green onions.

13 September 2007

Snowball, Meet Hell.

I am not what you'd consider a man's man. There's a whole lot of stereotyping attached to that statement, but it has a lot to do with cars. I absolutely suck at driving. You know that awkward thing where you almost bump a person on a narrow corridor and you give each other way? Then you end up dodging each other forever? The streets are like that for me, only we are housed in steel. (I'm too polite! Can you believe it?) I realize that the corollary to the stereotype is that women are not good drivers. I'm in no position to cast aspersions so I won't say that. If you want to fight among yourselves, do so on your own time.
Second, I suck at identifying cars. I'm just not very interested in owning one. Despite all the crap about image and whatnot influencing your opportunities, if I had all the money in the world I'd probably just buy a car that looks nice and has low fuel emissions. I don't know what that is. When describing where they're parked, my parents say something like "behind the Vios." I have to squint and look at the tiny logos and metal doodads because I have no idea what any single car looks like, even the ones my family owns(/ed).

Third, I don't find any excitement in all of the above. Back when we owned a Nissan Terrano, my classmate Andre kept telling me (translated): "Your car is so cool, let's drive it!" I'd politely nod. I think I was afraid of killing people. (After a few years in the emergency room, I still very much am!)

So it's suddenly snowed in hell as I have been enjoying the past few days playing Need for Speed: Carbon on the XBox 360 my brother ordered me to buy. My afternoons are spent cursing the television set, restarting race after race (I'm a perfectionist!), and figuring out how to make perfect drifts. I wouldn't say I'm particularly good at any of it, but I had no idea I had such aggression in me (lie: I played a lot of Mortal Kombat back in the day), ramming through dozens of police cars, poor regular joe cars, and most enjoyably of all, opponent cars. It's with relief that I note there are no pedestrians.

The rest of the time (at night, when everyone's asleep), I play Tenchu Z instead. There's a triumvirate of boyhood fantasies which varies, but I think the more constant ones included are pirate, cowboy, and ninja. There's something gross about the first two and really suave about the last. I'm not the type to ever want to kill someone, but somehow quietly killing Samurais and Ninjas without being detected is a lot of fun.

So now I'm practicing my driving, playing Need for Speed, pretending to be a ninja, and going to the, er, gym. Maybe I'm producing all the testosterone I need for the rest of my life when I am busy being serious. But please, when I start to love the ganster rap that is the soundtrack of Need for Speed, I give you permission to run over me.

White Chocolate Lasagna with Double Dutch Ice Cream and Bittersweet Chocolate Ganache

When I was a kid, I would be so bored visiting my aunt's house (who is the owner of an art gallery and some kind of magazine collector) that I would just leaf through her magazines to pass the time. Somewhere along the road, I learned to love Food & Wine Magazine. Her issues were from 1988 or some ancient year (yup, I was only single-digits then), but I marveled about how any of these "restaurant" dishes could be done at home.

On issue of Food & Wine was all about chocolate. I fantasized about manipulating the sweet candy (which I was allergic to at the time, and ate very little of) into all sorts of mouth-watering creations. One recipe there was for White Chocolate Lasagna with Peanut Ice Cream. The original called for sheets of hard white chocolate, but to make the "pasta" seem more like pasta, I used white chocolate plastic. Unfortunately, the white chocolate I bought (and really, isn't all white chocolate?) was too sweet and really needed to be taken down a notch. Nevertheless, this recipe can be replicated with bittersweet chocolate lasagna and any less sweet, more elegant ice cream, or maybe raspberry sorbet. (Instructions follow)
White Chocolate Lasagna with Double Dutch Ice Cream and Bittersweet Chocolate Ganache
Mix together 4 ounces of melted chocolate and 3 tablespoons corn syrup with a rubber spatula. At first it'll be thin and shiny but it soon becomes firm and dull. Set aside for 20-30 minutes to firm it up some more. I found that in our climate it was still quite soft, so it can stand to have less corn syrup. In cooler countries, don't refrigerate or it will become unworkable. If it becomes too firm, knead until malleable.

Form into a ball and dust the surface with powdered sugar. Run through the rollers of a pasta machine until it is the desired thickness. I tried crimping the edges so it would look like lasagna, but my chocolate plastic was too soft to retain the crimps, even after refrigeration. I just spread softened double dutch ice cream in between sheets of the chocolate, but if you want to be neat about it, beat the ice cream using a chilled paddle for 30 seconds on a stand mixer. Spread on a baking sheet about 1/2" thick and freeze until firm. Cut into rectangles and sandwich in between the chocolate.

11 September 2007

Switchfoot In Manila!!!!!!!

I'll try to make this short, but it does have 3 parts. So I'll write about them separately. Read each part at your pleasure.
Switchfoot in Manila 1
Switchfoot in Manila 2
(Tried my best to fix the blur)
First, I'll get to the event itself. It was yesterday (September 10) that I went by myself to Switchfoot's first concert here in Manila. Twenty percent of the proceeds go to the International Justice Mission, which works to prevent the trafficking of women and children. I'd been a fan for about 3 years, since the release of "The Beautiful Letdown," starting with their video for Spider-Man 2. I couldn't miss this concert! Their setlist was as follows (probably in the wrong order, sorry):
Oh! Gravity - Stars - Dare You To Move - American Dream - This Is Your Life - Learning to Breathe (GOD, one of my most favorite songs, ever) - Meant To Live - Chem 6A - "Pet Gorilla" improv - More Than Fine - Awakening - Gone - On Fire - (encore) Only Hope - We Are One Tonight. (note that all their 6 albums are represented here! Yay!)
Switchfoot in Manila - Only Hope
Jon Foreman singing Only Hope solo before being joined by the band for a grungier version.
I sat at the Lower Box reasonably near the stage, so only my pictures suffered, not my experience. I didn't have a companion with me but the energy was so high that it scarcely mattered. Also, it made me realize that there's always going to be a bigger fan, of course. I was surprised to find people singing along to "Chem 6A," one of their first songs that never made it here on an album.

Jon singing Only Hope.
They didn't sing some of my more favorite songs, such as "24" and "New Way To Be Human" but it was a respectable selection of songs, not to mention they had to promote their new album, that despite being out for months in other countries, was just released here 2 weeks ago. Boo, Columbia.

The audience (especially those at the mosh pit and close areas) was made up of die-hard Christian Rock fans. I'm glad I didn't get a more expensive ticket, as I am way too old and too small to be jumping up and down while being crushed.

Of course, there's a few cringeworthy moments. Sometime near the end, at least 2 fans went up on stage and pranced around like a bunch of lunatics. Not only could they have disrupted the band's concentration/instruments and ruined the show, but that was a clear attempt at making a great celebration of great music somehow about YOU. Way to go, douchebags. Thanks heavens the band played through it while stagehands dragged them off. Intermission consisted of Jerome Fontamillas (a Filipino bandmate and his first visit here since being born here) trying to get the rest of the band to eat balut (embryonated duck egg). It was funny, but I'm not comfortable revelling in other people's discomfort. Well, at least not people I admire, ha ha. Plus, that thing people do to foreigners, where you dare others into doing the local crap? Cringe-y! I am obviously a killjoy and not a lot of fun, but I don't care.
Switchfoot eating Balut
Switchfoot eating Balut closeup
The Balut incident.
There were plenty of great moments, but the spotlight was definitely on the inspirational music, which is what drew me to the band in the first place.
Jon Foreman from the audience in Manila
Jon Foreman singing from the audience.

The Awesomeness That is Switchfoot (part 2)

I'm not sure how many people know me well enough to make the connection. Sarcastic doctor from Manila::Christian hard rock surfers from San Diego. Yet Switchfoot ranks up there as one of my favorite artists ever.

The first video I saw of them, Meant to Live from the Spider-Man 2 European soundtrack. I first noticed Jon Foreman's enviable hair.
The key component of why I like them so much is the introspection, something I consider myself very good at. After I'd seen two of their videos, I liked their message well enough to buy their album. I got hooked and retroactively bought the rest of their albums.

One of their songs is the anthemic "Learning to Breathe." I'll post some lyrics here:
I'm learning to breathe, I'm learning to crawl. I'm finding that You and You alone can break my fall.
There was just a period in my life when I pretty much felt dead inside. I took joy only from being recognized, trying to get ahead of everyone. Contempt came very easily for me-- from people who didn't care what I did, from people who would call me a nurse, from people who wouldn't respect me. For some reason, listening to their powerful lyrics reminded me that none of these things really matter. Trying to be the best is not nearly as important as trying to be a good person. It made me realize the reasons I signed up for what I did; and who exactly it is that I'm serving. Obviously, I had been serving myself all this time.

From "24": I am the second man now-- and You're raising the dead in me.
Even at the age of 24, it's not too late to reorient your life and change for the better. The benefits came immediately-- I don't think I ever got really tired (okay, there were times of real physical stress, but I always managed to never complain and to still be able to joke around when needed), and I could handle being alone without being afraid.

I'm not trying to be preachy (hey, I'm all for living your life the way you want to!)-- just sharing a little bit of who I am.

Even now their old songs have new meaning to me! Consider the following lyrics from "Chem 6A":
Nothing but a chemical in my head
It's nothing but laziness
Cuz I dont wanna read the book
I'll watch the movie
Cuz its not me
I'm just like everybody else my age

I think I'd rather play around
And I think I'd rather watch tv

Scarily accurate!

Thoughts on the Line (part 3)

I am beginning to realize why I'm not cut out for life with a partner. I cannot engage in hackneyed small talk, like what the real meaning of traffic is. God, that's really fresh. Anyway, the couple behind me in line gave an even older meaning to "mundane." I love conversation, small or big. I can talk up any topic for a very long time. But they were about as up-to-date on topics as those upstart DJs on FM radio. (read: not up-to-date at all.) I also love silence. Maybe they should look it up.

I did, however, improv a haiku while on the line for the Switchfoot concert:

Where does the line end?
Where there are the most people
Right in front of you.

Deep, huh? Not.

I was stupid enough to have the guards check in my cellphone's battery at the gate. I had to ask a stranger to lend me their phone so I could make a quick message. Though she did look at me like I was a maniac (she looked a bit irritated. God, sorry. You can say no, you know). At least I can accomplish one of the tasks in Beauty and the Geek.

07 September 2007

HAHAHAHA (Incredulous Laughter)!

Apparently, if in your childhood you sort of overachieved, in the eyes of your family that will carry on in adulthood and they will still see you as a wünderkind of sorts (even if you're already 25). No matter what, they still think you can top about 2,500 of the best minds in science in the country (in your age group).

But that's not the story. Here's my auntie (grandmother's sister) yesterday, on my passing the medical boards: (translated of course)
She: "I didn't think you'd taken the boards yet!"
Me: "Huh? Why not?"
She: "I was expecting to find your name on the top ten, and when I didn't see it there, I assumed you hadn't taken the test!"

HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!! (Incredulous laughter!) HOW is she able to get away with that? Only a family member can confuse disappointment with flattery and get away with it. Auntie, I love you, but that was beyond weird.

Oh, that drawing is the best I can mock up in 5 minutes on my WACOM tablet and my "Charles Schultz-y" hands.

04 September 2007

La Fleur

(The Flower) The name of this cake has more to do with the decoration, which I didn't bother with. It's actually Honey Génoise with Pears and Milk Buttercream. When I tasted the buttercream alone, I actually got worried that my cake would taste like sweet butter, but when it's applied in a thin layer and you add the grainy freshness of pears, the flavors meld remarkably well. It's from Flo Braker's The Simple Art of Perfect Baking.

This is also a birthday cake for fellow blogger, eGulleter, and (mostly) sane guy Graeme. I had a hell of a time thinking of a cake I could make that made use of non-tropical flavors. Anyway, happy birthday! Trust me, it tastes great. There's only 30% left, a feat for an 8-inch cake in this household. (Recipe follows)
La Fleur
La Fleur Slice
Sift together 1 cup sifted cake flour, 1 tablespoon sugar, and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Set aside. Melt 2 tablespoons butter and mix in 1 teaspoon lemon zest (I used calamansi rind). Set aside. In a bowl set over 1 inch hot tap water, whisk together 2 large egg yolks, 3 large eggs, 1/2 cup sugar, and 1 tablespoon honey (or maple syrup) until warm (up to 40°C/110°F) and feel smooth and not grainy, about 30 seconds. Take off the hot water and beat on medium-high for 3-4 minutes, until ribbons falling from the beaters stay on the surface of the batter for a while. Fold in the flour mixture in 3 additions. Take 1 cup of the batter, fold into the melted butter, then fold this into the rest of the batter until just combined. Pour into a greased and lined 8-inch round cake pan. Spin the pan to raise the sides. Place in a preheated 350°F (170°C) oven and bake for 25-27 minutes, or the cake feels spongy, the sides begin to contract, and only moist crumbs stick to a cake tester.

To make the buttercream, beat 1 large egg yolk and 1 large egg in a large bowl for 1 minute on high. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, bring 1/2 cup of whole milk and 1 cup sugar to a boil until a candy thermometer registers 220°F (105°C). Pour in a thin stream down the side of the eggs while beating the eggs on high speed, taking care not to hit the beaters with the hot syrup. Continute beating for a total of 10 minutes, until the eggs are just body temperature (37°C/99°F). Beat in 3 sticks of room temperature butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, on high speed, waiting until each tablespoon is completely incorporated before adding the next. If the buttercream begins to curdle, beat on high speed until it reaches a satiny consistency and continue adding the butter. If you have Poire William pear liqueur available, beat in 2 tablespoons of it into the buttercream.

Split the génoise horizontally in two and brush the bottom half with a mixture of 1/2 cup simple syrup mixed with 1/4 cup Poire William pear liqueur, or do as I did and brush with the syrup of canned peaches (the liqueur is unavailable here). Spread the bottom half thinly with buttercream. Place slices or cubes of poached or canned pears on top. Place the second layer on top of this, and frost the top and sides with the remaining buttercream.

Music/Video Round-Up

Because we have to let some things be about art (and stop stuffing ourselves with sweet, sweet candy), here's a bunch of videos that have been playing on my favorites and/or I haven't been able to take out of my mind:

Gwen Stefani's 4 in the Morning - All you really need in a video is Gwen Stefani rolling around in bed. Maybe have her walk around in a vest and tie? Or take a bath. She looks chin-y in some shots but I think she's rarely looked better. The song is great too (it's her collaboration with No-Doubter Tony Kanal).

Madonna's Human Nature - I used to not pay too much attention to this song and video when I was younger. But now as a designer I think it's the perfect marriage of medium and message. The choreography is awesome and strangely appropriate, mainly because it's so inappropriate! It's so cool, like she thought "You want to put me in bondage? I'll show you bondage!"

Beyoncé's Deja Vu - Somehow, dance moves that are supposed to look kind of dumb when performed by 90% of the world's population look great when she does them.

Beyoncé's Get Me Bodied - Just lots of fun. Makes me wish I didn't have two left feet. Hey, it was her birthday yesterday!

Lauryn Hill's Ex-Factor - The video is nothing special, but this song is so anguished it has to be here.

Justin Timberlake's Lovestoned/ I Think That She Knows - Eh? What's he doing here? I still think his voice is crap and the lyrics of this song are beyond dumb, but the music is written well and the video... It excites the mathematician in me. Looks very good that I want to steal it for my next design project.

03 September 2007

Tempura Soba (with how-to)

(Tempura Noodle Soup) Part 2 of the cook-your-cravings series (Japanese edition) will be about Tempura. It's not (yet) well-documented but I adore prawns and struggled with getting over my allergy to them just so I could eat them. However, I still have to be very careful preparing them or my fingers will swell to the size of sausages (mmm, sausage).

Instead of making Tendon (Tempura Rice Bowl), I've decided to make something I've only had once in my childhood, which is Tempura Soba. I remember not liking it too much, but maybe if I make it myself, I can control the ingredients and the taste. (Instructions follow)
Tempura Soba
I bought jumbo shrimp (oxymoron) as prawns were over-the-top expensive, but if you have the money, it'll be a good purchase. Take the head off with a sharp knife, and if your prawns are fresh, don't cut all the way at the dorsum of the head ("nape" if you will), because you might be able to get the digestive system (the sandy, often dark dorsal "vein") in one go when you carefully pull the head. With your fingers, peel away all but the last segment of the shell, taking the swimmerets (pleopods) with it. With a knife, cut out the tip of the tail (don't really know why, but one book says it's to keep the "moisture" in. Huh?). Make several small incisions on the ventral side of the shrimp (the inside of the curve) to straighten it and to prevent its curling while cooking. If you haven't already, make a very shallow cut on the dorsum and pull out the intestine in one piece. Yay! Prepapred prawns.

Make sure the prawns are dry before battering, patting in between paper towels if needed. The prep needs one plate of plain flour, tempura batter, and the deep 180°C (360°F) oil, no hotter or the tempura will be brown and tough. Tempura batter is prepared by mixing 100g of packaged tempura batter mix and 160mL cold water. I used a scale for this. Mix with chopsticks (recommended as they are inefficient for mixing), or really with any tool just as long as you don't do it thoroughly and many lumps remain.

Dredge the prawns in flour, slap off the excess, and dip in the tempura batter, avoiding battering the shelled tail. Deep fry for 3-4 minutes. Drain on paper towels or newsprint.

I used buckwheat soba for the noodles. Not a good choice. Not that they taste bad, but their flavor was too earthy and heady, when the clean taste of the prawns should be paired off with something clean-tasting as well, like plain soba. Cook and drain the noodles in advance, place in the bowl.

The vegetables I used were sliced shitake mushrooms and carrots. This dish should really have greens ("trefoil" or maybe scallions), but none were available at the market. I blanched the carrots and mushrooms in boiling water for a minute and plunged in cold water. Set the vegetables on the cooked noodles.

To make the broth, I used ready-made Kikkoman Tempura Sauce. It has seaweed and fish extracts, just like dashi! For regular tempura sauce, dilute 1 part in 3 parts hot water. For soup base, dilute 1 part in 7 parts hot water. If you're a purist, use mirin, dashi, sugar, and soy sauce. But I found I would be paying too much to buy the individual components. Pour the hot prepared broth on the noodles and vegetables, then top with cooked tempura and serve immediately.

02 September 2007

Vanity Fair

Practicing portrait photography on a "model." The only way this guy is a male model is that he is somewhat a giant douche.

Credit: Shirt is from Springfield. Only costs PhP1,950 (£20.80 or $42)!

Katsudon (with how-to)

(Pork Cutlet Rice Bowl) The sad thing about going to certain restaurants so infrequently is that when you hear you're going there, you're going to go for what you're craving, and in the process you never try anything new. Case in point: Kimpura, my favorite Japanese restaurant, and Tonkatsu (deep fried pork cutlet). There's really nothing difficult or intimidating about making Tonkatsu, but every time I'm there, I can't help but order it (I think in all my years of eating there, the only non-classic menu item I've ordered is Itabukayaki, which is pork in mustard sauce. Not bad). The solution: make it at home. When you get to your restaurant, you won't have the craving for it any longer. Feel free to order anything else.

To make it "kawaii", I've made Katsudon, which is really Tonkatsu in a rice bowl presentation. Classic Katsudon is pork cutlet without the traditional thick, sweet, Worcestershire-like sauce, and instead topping rice mixed with mirin, dashi, soy sauce, sugar, leeks, and a raw egg. I have nothing against that, but I love traditional tonkatsu sauce, and I'm not too hot about the mucus-y rice (okay, it does sound like I have something against it). So instead, I've made a non-traditional but still classic Katsudon, with accompaniments of Tonkatsu sauce, shredded cabbage, and tomato. (Instructions follow)
You may remember the giant pork loin from before. I told my mom I had no intentions of roasting that monster again (we had two of them), so I set my mind of pork cutlets. Cut the raw loin into 0.5-inch (1-cm) thick slices, then pound with a tenderizing mallet until you have limp sheets.

Your prep should consists of a tiny dish of salt and pepper, one plate of plain flour, one bowl of beaten egg, and one bowl of fresh or dry bread crumbs (I used dry). As you can see, I dumped the flour on top of the meat as I'm not so great with washing dishes. Don't do that. Season the meat lightly with salt and pepper on both sides, then dredge with flour. Take the slice and slap it to get rid of the floury excess, or your breading will slip off your cooked cutlet. Dip in beaten egg, briefly shaking off the excess, then into the bread crumbs.

Take your prepared cutlets to the fridge for 2 hours or in the freezer for 30 minutes to make the breading crispier.

I used a fairly shallow skillet to pan-fry my cutlets as I don't like using a lot of cooking oil, just because of the waste. Preheat the oil to 180°C (360°F) and no hotter. This is a low flame, my fire-loving friends. I used a deep-fry thermometer. Other techniques that have been used to measure oil heat is by measuring how long it takes the breading to brown, how furiously it sizzles, or as soon as dipping bamboo chopsticks causes the oil to bubble. I'm a novice so I don't want to use any of those techniques. Deep fry the cutlets for 5-7 minutes, turning once in the process.

As you can see, preheating the oil to what Filipino cooks are used to for deep-frying causes the cutlet to brown too quickly and is not considered aesthetically pleasing, I guess. The darkest cutlet there was cooked at 400°F. Yikes.

Using a sharp knife or cleaver, cleave the meat into 1 cm strips against the length and rearrange them on the plate or rice bowl as a complete cutlet (use the side of your knife to lift the whole cutlet without destroying it).

I used Ottogi Pork Cutlet Tonkatsu sauce, which is a relatively inexpensive (PhP80) Korean brand, and tastes pretty good. The other available brand is Bull-Dog (PhP140). I've heard of other brands such as Kikkoman but they're not sold here, as far as I know. Serve with shredded cabbage or coleslaw, topped with tomato purée or slices.

To make classic Katsudon, combine 1-1/4 cups dashi, 3-1/2 tablespoons mirin, 1-1/2 tablespoons light soy sauce, and 1-1/2 tablespoons dark soy sauce in a saucepan, add chopped leeks and onions, and bring to a boil, cooking until the leeks are soft. Pour over the rice. Just before serving, pour a beaten egg on top and top with the pork cutlet.