Saturday, September 20, 2008

Street Food Menu

Some time ago, I had been hired as a chef/consultant for an event along with my friends Ina, Che, and Derick. The event had a very interesting concept that really got us excited. We were to design and execute a menu that fused Filipino street food with fine dining. We designed the menu, went through several revisions to stay within budget, and even did a food tasting for the client. Sadly the event fell through due to budget constraints. I heard on the grapevine that the event may still push through but we're no longer going to be a part of it. I'm guessing they're getting some HRM students to do it for free. Ah well, chalk another one up to experience.

Anyways I couldn't let a perfectly good menu go to waste so I went and cooked it at home for my family and some of our friends.

Appetizer: Faux Street Food Platter

Appetizer: Faux Street Food Platter

The faux kwek-kwek are actually cheese-stuffed champignon mushrooms coated in traditional orange-colored street batter. The faux isaw are deep-fried sesame-soy bucatini. The dipping sauce is a simple chive and sour cream mixture.

Salad: Deconstructed Lumpia with Thai Dressing

Salad: Deconstructed Lumpia with Thai Dressing
That's pretty self-explanatory. I made some crunchy baskets out of fried lumpia wrapper, and filled them with lumpia filling: carrot, tofu, bean sprouts, shredded cabbage, garlic, minced pork, shallots, baby shrimp, whole roasted peanuts, crunchy fried vermicelli. The dressing: thai nam pla, lime juice, minced coriander, muscovado sugar, and a touch of chilli.

Roast Pork Belly with Inihaw na Mais Polenta, Street BBQ Style Sauce, and Caramelized Pineapple

Roast Pork Belly with Inihaw na Mais Polenta, Street BBQ Style Sauce, and Caramelized Pineapple
Braised the liempo til it was melt in your mouth before roasting it. The marinade (which was also made into the sauce after about an hour of simmering) was pinoy-style BBQ: garlic, onions, soy, vinegar, brown sugar, banana ketchup, and Sprite. The original menu had binatog as the starch but as I couldn't get my hands on any binatog this weekend I just roasted some corn and mixed it into some polenta. Sadly it didn't work as well as the binatog had but it wasn't half bad.

Dessert: Suman with Latik Ice Cream and Panocha

Dessert: Suman with Latik Ice Cream and Panocha
First I made the suman (sticky coconut rice cake). Then I cooked down some gata (coconut cream) to make the latik. I made some coconut flavored ice cream and folded the latik into that. Topped the suman with a quenelle of ice cream, and sprinkled on some panocha (palm sugar) shavings. Delicious!

Menu designed by Ina Bilbao, JB Cada, Cheryl Go
Execution by me & Steph with some help from Ace
Photography by Sarah
Food Tasters: our good friends the Esteban Family
Dinner sponsored by my mom hehehe.

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Monday, September 15, 2008

Sunday Market

I went to the weekly farmer's market at the Lung Center yesterday, something I used to do almost every week, but have not for a while now. When I was a child I hated the wet market. It was hot, noisy, smelly, and worst of all, boring. This was when I didn't really care about food. Or maybe I did but my interest in food did not yet extend pre-kitchen. Now that food is my life going to market is always a treat for me. The variety of produce never fails to astound me, and the changing of produce with the seasons.

Often the inspiration for a dish or an entire menu will come from a particularly beautiful vegetable spotted in the little corner store, or some incredibly fresh seafood at the fish stall. Now I find the market smells invigorating. The market is a feast of fresh produce smells, warm cooking smells, wild colors and textures. And noise, noise, noise! The market throbs with life. Sometimes I spend hours just walking around, caught up in the milling crowd, enjoying the vendors' calls, the haggling, hurrying porters hauling goods, the occasional stray crab crossing the lane.

At this Sunday market the vendors come in from the provinces bringing their best stuff, so there is an incredible variety of goods. Longganisang Lucban, kesong puti ng kalabaw from Bulacan, sinaing na tulingan from Batangas, kasoy from Antipolo, from Palawan. Fruit from Davao. Fish from GenSan. Greens from Tagaytay. Every kind of pancit from every province you can think of. Chicken Inasal from Bacolod. It's endless.

Here, a lady sells sushi next to another selling pasta dishes. There, a man selling Batangas knives and machetes. There, baskets and woodcraft. There are pets for sale, and potted herbs and ornamental plants. There are kitchenware and baby clothes and yes, the ubiquitous pirated DVD's.

I didn't really need to buy anything as I don't have a catering gig scheduled this week, but I still managed to spend about three hours at the market yesterday just soaking it all up. My loot: some gorgeous tuna steaks, some nice shrimp, some carabao cheese, some green tomatoes, and a bottle of goat's milk. I'm already looking forward to next week.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The Science of Cooking demo at my old high school

Well I still haven't fully recovered from several utterly sleepless nights cramming preparing for last Tuesday's Alternative Classroom Learning Experience (ACLE) at my highschool alma mater Philippine Science High School (PSHS). It's been 17 years since I graduated from "Pisay" and I was excited about this opportunity to "give back". I'd been kicking ideas around but hadn't really gotten enough focus to lay an outline down on paper. I'd spent much of the weekend bogged down in other projects, though I made some progress ACLE-wise last Friday when Papa & I drove up to Pampanga to buy 3kgs of liquid nitrogen for the demo. I had already solved the logistics problem by getting my culinary school CACS to sponsor most of the ingredients and equipment (LN2 not included, but I got Pisay to reimburse that, and I coughed up the rest for some other ingredients. Hey Hagee I forgot to pay you for the tube ice!)

So I was up all of Monday night finishing my powerpoint slides. I had trouble getting some of the videos to embed, and come presentation time they wouldn't play :( But I had fun compiling them. Next year they'll be good to go. I had scheduled to meet my team (chefschool classmates of mine that I'd arm-twisted had volunteered) at Cafe Ysabel 7am to pick up the equipment: portable 5 butane stoves, assorted pots and pans and other cooking implements (part of my discussion was to compare materials used in cooking vessel manufacture -- aluminum, stainless steel, cast iron, copper etc etc). I already had 3 crates of ingredients (I had spent some of the night before making eighteen 10-inch pizza crusts) but I had a few additional things to pick up at the grocery (peppermint gum for a demo on taste fatigue, a bag of lychee jellies for a demo on inhibiting enzymatic breakdown of proteins, and some plastic cups). I finish my groceries and then my car would not start! Call Papa, call the mechanic. Call my team to tell them to get the gear and meet me sa Pisay. Dang, I'm out of phone credits. Car started and phone reloaded, I chug over to Pisay. Now I get to haul all my gear to the bio lab by myself. Besides the crates of ingredients there's the tank of nitro, my blender, the videocam, laptop, Cafe Ysabel promotional stuff, sound equipment (1 tiny wireless lapel mic, and one monstrously heavy 300watt powered speaker) and a large cooler for the---oh dang I forgot the ice! SOS to Hagee. He'll buy the ice. Thanks, buddy! :D

It's almost 9am (class is scheduled for 10am) and my gear isn't ready, my powerpoint isn't ready, I'm physically and mentally exhausted, and I'm all alone in the lab. Worst of all, I'm not having fun. Steph arrives (she'd been forced to skip work by a busted harddrive and so was available to help out) and then Hagee, then Tim. Hagee sets up laptop and LCD projector. Tim sets up audio. Steph sets up video documentation and then she helps me set up the "kitchen" though it's all just ingredients as my cooking gear isn't there yet. I'm freaking out. I know I will have to wing this. I change shirts as I'm sweat-soaked from exertion and stress. I'm no fun to be around.

Around 9:50am students start arriving. Where the heck's my team?! I change to my chef duds and rifle through my note cards. My team calls from the gate; they're held up by security. I talk to security on the phone and they're let in. Tim meets them at the back lobby. 10am my team comes in and immediately sets up the gear. The student in charge tells me we're still waiting for 20 people (40 had signed up). I force myself to relax. Just enjoy this, JB, and the kids will too. Ma'am Docto (my Bio teacher from way back) peeks in and I say "Hi!" she asks if she can watch and I say "Sure!" (she doesn't show again)

10:40. Session begins. I am introduced, and I introduce my team. I have the kids put on their lab gowns and wash their hands. Should've had them do that while waiting duh! Not a great start. I begin with showing them how a kitchen is like a laboratory and then go full on into Molecular Gastronomy. The kids are starting to dig it :)

On to kitchen myths debunked, and then Forms of Heat Transfer. I'm on a roll now 8) Next it's the materials physics discussion with the cooking vessels. One student knows what PTFE! "If Teflon is so slippery, how do they get it on the pan itself?" Oh dang, my video with the answer doesn't work so I describe the process (sandblasting to etch, and then a PTFE-spiked primer before the PTFE itself), and I show them a couple of pans the school had had re-coated. Ma'am Bawagan (my History teacher senior year) asks me where we had it done and I have to tell her I don't know hehe :oops:

Kitchen Chemicals: The kids identify water and table salt from molecular diagrams. They don't do too well with lactose, though they know what it is when I identify it. They get sucrose right off. I show them a triglyceride and explain what "saturated" and "unsaturated" mean on a molecular level. I'm getting ahhs and wide eyed "now I get it" looks. I'm enjoying this :D Ooh look at the time! I gotta skip topics.

Chemical Changes During Cooking: I show them how to make caramel and explain the exothermic chemical reactions taking place. I show them how to use an invert sugar to prevent recrystallization. Next up it's the homemade sausages for some Maillard browning reactions. "Rusted" apples to illustrate enzymatic browning. Then it's my pineapple puree enzymes attacking their lychee jellies.

On to Leavening Agents, mechanical, biological, and chemical. I activate some yeast, and I get some baking soda fizzing in some lemon juice. I had planned to fizz the baking soda in some melted caramel (forming caramel crunch, locally known as tira-tira) which we could've used as ice cream topping later, but I forgot. Then an explanation of single and double acting baking powder.

The 5 Basic Tastes: Sweet, Salty, Sour, Bitter, and Umami. Some of the kids actually know what umami is. My non-Pisay chef-school classmates are amazed :wink: I go into chlorophyll degradation via heat and how to inhibit it. The mint gum experiment fails; we're unable to replicate documented results. The kids enjoy it anyway :)

I use the yeast discussion as an excuse to cook pizzas for the kids. I had wanted for the toppings to have come from a scientific discussion too. Well we had the sausages from the Maillard rxn demo but the mozzarella and basil were just throw-ins. I get all five stoves going with my team to supervise, and the kids laid on the toppings themselves. Ma'am Caintic (senior year Physics) comes in for a peek at this point. I cheerily greet her and wonder if she remembers my senior year hijinks haha!

12noon I want to do the no-tech ice cream (hand-squished in a bag submerged in an ice bath rendered sub-zero by the addition of salt: an illustration of freezing point depression) but I'd already gone overtime so I brought out the liquid nitrogen. I'd had my team prepare the custard base as I was starting the session, and now I got one of the kids to bash up some Oreos. The LN2 froze the ice cream in under four minutes. The kids ate it up in under two :lol:

Session officially over, a bunch of guys hung around and we finished all the pizza. I also start some pasta going and I keep quizzing them: "Will this water boil faster lid on or lid off? Lid on, you say? Tell me why" They're really into it, posing hypotheses. I give them a hint: The Ideal Gas Law. I'm really having fun with this, and it looks like so are they.

Students gone, I finish cooking the pasta as cleanup is in progress. Ernie chucks the leftover pineapple, lemon juice, ice and sugar into the blender. Lemon pineapple smoothie! It's really good! Now if we only had some vodka :twisted:

Hagee calls us up to the 2nd floor. I regret not having come up earlier..we could've met the rest of the lecturers. Heck, with all our gear and ingredients we could've fed them all and Pisay wouldn't have had to spend on catering. Oh well.

Back downstairs to pack up. It's raining Felis catus and Canis lupus familiaris outside. The other driver and I slosh through rain and flood to get to the vehicles. My car won't start again. Finally get it going but it overheats on the way home. Got that under control at the Shell station on Visayas Ave, leave my car at home and we all pile into the other car to head over to Cafe Ysabel and return the school's gear. I'm swaying on my feet, totally spent. When Steph and I get to her place I crash on the bed and am not heard from til late morning. No, actually Steph said I kept sitting up and blathering on about magnesium in the chlorophyll and stuff like that. She had stayed up to install her new hard drive and watch me lecturing in my sleep. :lol:

All in all an exhausting but fun & fulfilling day. I'm still in recovery, and my other project deadlines are breathing down my neck but already I'm thinking about how to fine-tune the session for next year's ACLE. I've also set up a PSHS Molecular Gastronomy yahoogroup for the kids so we can continue discussing. I'm having the time of my life! :D

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