Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Morsels of Love

Lavender-infused leche flan.
Roasted potatoes, sweet potatoes, butternut squash with garlic and rosemary.

Roasted ducks.

Doing thanksgiving for a family group of 15 or more can normally make me nervous. Of course, any host would want it perfect. I am not beyond that, I am part of that group of hostess/cooks. Yes, I have double roles. I want to make sure that folks enjoy the meal, but also to create an environment where folks can be who they are, but still play, have fun, enjoy or simply cuddle in a corner with a book in the library. It is any which way you want to be, to a certain extent. Since of course folks are coming for a group meal, I do would like to hear their stories, how it has been for them throughout the year, without being obtrusive, without interrogating, but just simply being with them.

So, there, I have declared my intentions of why I host Thanksgiving, it is my favorite holiday of the year, for I do have a lot to thank for, especially this year, when most of my dreams for the year got manifested and became true: starting with electing Pres. Barack Obama, a trip to Paris, cooking classes in Provence, a trip to see the tulips in Kuekenhoff, a moment to whisper gratitude to Oprah for what she does for all of us, and now, an interview that simply converged all these experiences together, an interview with Thumbelina Designs, Inc. , which I will be posting in my other blog shortly. Shortly, meaning a few weeks from now after it is published.

I rearranged the rooms, because I wanted a community table, one where all can sit down and just hear stories from one another, instead of vanishing the vintage adults in one room and the younger adults in another. This year, I wanted us all together.

I made a list of tasks to do. It took me two days to decide on the menu: Theme is using oranges and fall's harvest from the gardens: oranges, lemon grass, calamansi, lemons, mandarins.

mini quiches
duck a' la orange ( crispy skin is desired )
pork lechon with liver sauce ( crackled skin is desired )
guacamole salad
cheese bread from La Maison du Pain
sotanghon ala Sarah
roasted fall veggies
lavender infused leche flan
pecan tart
lemongrass tea with cinnamon and calamansi

Day 1.
It started on Sunday, Day 1, when I bought all my flowers: leesyanthus, white and red casa blancas, no sunflowers this time as the sunflowers from last week are still good, a bunch of wild flowers, the deepest blue purple I found. I was so busy going from stall to stall with my flowers, that I did not notice two bouquets of casa blancas were lifted from my cart. So, I went back to Jeff, said a prayer for the flower thief and offered him/her a prayer that perhaps h/she had a higher need. Jeff wrapped the bouquets of casa blancas and as I was paying with a check, he said no, but I insisted, he took my pen and wished me Happy thanksgiving. Now, even with a bad incident, for Jeff to turn it around and make it for more wishes of good thanksgiving, I got in the right mood. I will for sure bake him a loaf of banana bread with raspberries and orange zest.

So, anyway, back to buying my produce, I went to Doug Powell's stall at the Farmer's Market, and I picked my butternut squash, sweet potatoes, shallots, potatoes all for my roasted fall' s harvest. His daughter, oops, her name escapes me at the moment, gave me a pumpkin and wished me a happy thanksgiving.

Day 2.
Even my trip to Trader Joe's was uneventful, I got all that I needed, no traffic, and no lines, of course, it was a Monday at 10 am, a vintage woman with platinum hair even helped me with my questions: will sharp cheddar cheese work with aged gruyere cheese for mac/cheese dish? She said yes, it would, but I decided that mac/cheese is a daily offering in any restaurant or cafeteria, it may not be that special. So, no mac/cheese.

This day, I made leche flan, lavender infused. You are wondering where is the recipe? It is in a prior posting on my blog, but to make it easier for you, the readers now, here it is.

1 can of condensed milk
1/2 can of water
6 egg yolks
1 tablespoon of sugar - put on the mold, caramelize the sugar, meaning, heat the sugar over low flame until it turns brown. No need for water, just watch it carefully until it browns. Then, with the brown liquid, swirl it around until the flat bottom of a mold is fully covered. Set aside to cool.

In a low flame, add 1 can of condensed milk, 1/2 can of water ( using the empty condensed milk can as a measuring cup ), add two tablespoons of lavender flowers. Boil over low flame. Then, filter over a strainer to remove the lavender flowers.

My initial taste of the liquid is muted lavender taste. So, I made lavender syrup. When I plated the leche flan, I poured lavender syrup on the plate first, then, unmolded the leche flan.

Day 3.

It is the day for preparing orange sauce and lavender syrup. It took me most of the morning. But, it is so worth it. The orange flavors are coming through, or should I say, the flavors are present.

1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 1/2 cups orange juice
2 tablespoon shallots
1 1/2 cups chicken stock or water
4 oranges, sections cut from membrane
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1 tablespoon orange zest ( use the zester, rub it against the orange peel, they come out shredded in texture or peel the orange and slice the peels to desired size, I minced mine. )

Boil sugar and water, until syrup caramelizes a golden brown. I did not do golden brown, just light brown. Add sherry vinegar, careful with this step as the steam starts to form. Add shallots, water is what I used as I wanted it muted, not too rich. Stir in orange sections. Simmer until reduced to less than a cup. Add butter and a one tablespoon orange zest. Set aside. This will be my accompaninent with the crispy duck.

When I made the orange sauce, I made a mistake, instead of stirring in the orange sections and orange zest just before serving, I boiled them and that left a pronounced bitter taste. The preferred sauce for the roasted duck became the Mang Tomas Lechon Sauce.

Let us offer some good wishes that the duck comes out crisp as intended.

The idea is to have all the flavors, but not too rich. I learned self-restraint as the other day, I made this wonderful seafood soup, it was good, but it was so rich, that after four spoonfuls, I stopped. That is what rich tastes does, it satiates you fast and that is not good for me these days. I want folks to linger with their food, where surprise flavors wake up in the back of their tongue as they chew and swallow. So restrained in flavors and muted in placing different flavors to my dishes is a new theme for me.

Day 4.

I baked banana bread with raspberries and orange zest. It turned out okay but, it is kinda low in raspberry flavor, as half of the tub of raspberries had to be thrown out.

After baking four batches, reserving most as thanksgiving presents, for drop-in friends, I was invited to see a screening of Delhi 6 by Janet Nepales. First, we went to lunch at Spago's and the menu was extensive:

When I got home, I was so inspired, I started marinating the two ducks, using sage, thyme, lemon zest, orange zest and salt. Then, I made slits on the pork loin and inserted garlic cloves, and seasoned it with adobo seasoning ( only the Goya brand, I tested the others, they do not compare to the Goya ), garlic salt and lemon zest. I baked it at 325 F and after an hour, the pork loin was done. I tasted a slice and it was so right on..just enough citrus, just enough garlic and just enough salt.

Then, I refrigerated the ducks to dry overnight in the refrigerator and tomorrow, they will cooked using the rotisserie.

Day of Thanksgiving.

I offered a prayer first that all turn out well. I prepared the vegetables and salad mix. The roasted vegetables were flavored with rosemary and minced garlic and sauteed with olive oil. After searing all the vegetables, I baked them to fully cook at 350F for another 30 minutes.

Using residual heat from the oven, the roasted vegetables got cooked some more. I reheated the roasted pork loin and inserted a thermometer to make sure that the pork was well done at internal temperature of 165 F.

As to the roasted duck, the rotisserie plan worked out well and the ducks were roasted at 300F and after two hours, two 5 pound ducks were done. I decided to crackle the skin at 500F for another 20 minutes.

The rest was laid out at the table with help from family members. I got so excited to have a table of 13 happily seated at the table, but what gave me inner satisfaction was the roundtable exchanges of " what I am thankful for ".

And what are they? Lord, we are thankful for: our mother's health, for our lives, for our spouses who allow us to go camping by ourselves, for our mothers and fathers for enabling us a debt-free college education, for our own health and no emergency hospitalizations for a change, for our jobs, for our community, for being able to stay rent-free at parents' house, for being supportive of our higher education goals, for keeping us in college when some of our friends could not afford to continue, for giving us photography jobs, for giving us jobs in doing make-up for others, for our education courtesy of the military, for our jobs, for teaching so our children can go to college, for going to work to support our family, and lastly for the generosity of folks who allowed dreams to come true: to visit Paris, Amsterdam, Provence, Philippines and to see Oprah in person.

Not content yet to end the night, my daughter suggested to go see a movie, " The Blind Side ", starring Sandra Bullock. Our 94 year old mother-in-law, mother, grandmother agreed to come. Imagine that! She had the energy to simply go along. At the theater, she was so wide awake and stayed engaged. We all had a great time!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

A fall-inspired Sunday dinner for 2

Yup, it is dinner for 2. Regardless, I like to do it as if our table is an empty canvas to be filled with sensually appealing colors, flavors and textures. Tonight, I went with what is available in the farmer's market: broccolini sprouts, arugula and romaine mix, wild salmon and jumbo shrimps. And of course, baguette from our favorite bakery's La Maison du Pain.


Salmon and Shrimps with Olive Oil and Garlic ( I want to call it vampire shrimps and salmon, because I use lots of garlic, a whole bulb enough to kill a vampire. ) I have no scientific proof for that, only old wives' tales.

olive oil, 3 tablespoons
butter, one tablespoon
goya adobo seasoning
a whole bulb of garlic, skinned and macerated cloves

Heat up the cast iron pan. When fully hot ( unable to touch, but the heat can be felt three inches high from the pan ), add olive oil and butter, and quickly, the macerated garlic. Add the shrimps, when they turn pink in their shells and the meat inside is no longer raw, about 3 minutes ( do not overcook ), they are ready. Set them aside.

Take the salmon fillet and apply generously Goya adobo seasoning on both sides of the fillet. I chose wild salmon, the preferred in our family, and luckily they were available at the Farmer's market. I took it home, with a bag of ice, as fish is a perishable product, that needs to be refrigerated. In lieu of refrigeration, a bag of ice is an alternative. Well, that also goes for the shrimps..., with bagged ice as its partner in transport.

Sear the salmon, skin first, over medium heat, in the cast iron pan with olive oil and butter. Folks ask me why the combination - because by itself, butter will burn, so will olive oil and the worst taste is burnt oil. But the combination allows a higher temperature to be attained without burnt oil taste. Searing is done when you can move the salmon with a tong with ease and it can be turned over and ever so gently please so as not to ruin the fillet. Sear the other side.

Observe the sides of the fillet, you will see a change in translucency. Why is that observation important? It will be the visual indicator of how fish cooks, without overcooking it. Observe the raw salmon's color, and notice the color of the fish as it cooks, just before the sides of the fish turn white, remove the pan from the stove.

Pre-heat oven to 350 F, and finish cooking only long enough until the salmon flakes off. Turn off the oven. Why? Residual heat from the pan and the oven's give the fish additional cooking time. It would be enough to finish the cooking of the fish, without the risk of overcooking.

My hubby of course complimented the salmon as done just right! I do not live for his compliments, but it is nice to hear it especially since I try to make a masterpiece of my cooking each night, well sometimes, I only manage colors and textures, and flavors will be off. That happens when I am in a foul mood. So, when I am in that funky mood, I do not like to cook.

Garlic Parmesan Bread

Baguette from La Maison du Pain
Three cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon of butter or more, if needed
Parmesan cheese ( two thick slices )

Use a small processor, a 4 cup size. Add mashed garlic cloves, 1 tablespoon of butter, 2 slices of parmesan cheese and grind into a paste. Break open the baguette and apply the paste. Place in a pre-heated oven at 375 F for 5 minutes, enough to melt the butter. This cheese is not mozarella, so it will not melt completely, and there will be bits and pieces when you bite into the baguette. But, this is just the yummiest garlic bread you would have tasted.

How do I know?

Well, Steve came up with this recipe, we watched him melt the butter, add the garlic and grated parmesan cheese as he prepared the garlic bread to go with the gumbo. I decided to tweak his recipe and not melt the butter, and just allow it to happen when the bread is heated in the oven with garlic, butter and parmesan cheese paste. My hunch was right, and I saved myself an extra step of melting butter in the microwave. And it is so good!


Arugula and Romaine Mix
Jicama, skinned and cut up into pieces
Heirloom Tomatoes, sliced
Persimmons, peeled and cut into quarters
Broccolini Sprouts, raw ( a handful )

Dressing: Use a processor and mix in 12 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon seasoned, gourmet rice vinegar and 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar with raisin syrup, salt and pepper. If a bit sour, add a teaspoon of sugar. It is slightly sweet, citrusy, light dressing. Add the dressing to the salad mix.

We decided our dessert is either cinnamon/lemongrass tea ( which my hubby makes from scratch, using lemon grass from the backyard and cinnamon sticks - he has a precise formula that after boiling them together, a very tasty tea that is not too sweet and slightly lemony in taste) or brewed colombian coffee.

The entire meal took me 20 minutes to cook, including preparation time. It was gone in less than 10 minutes.

I wish sometimes for the European way of eating, three hours at the table, prolonged conversations, so much laughter and of course two glasses of wine at dinner time.

Except, for me, only my hosts get to drink, as I am allergic to wine!

Ha, ha, I am actually okay with the American efficient way of eating, I get to blog afterwards and feel like I am preserving the family's recipes for the next generation.

Actually, I love blogging what I cook and what I create. It keeps me motivated, particularly when readers stop me at events and tell me they read the blog. I just wish they leave the comments on this blog instead.

Bon Appetit, till the next one!!