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Love in Lasagna

15 Nov

lasagna-copyThe very first dish I ever learned to make was a lasagna. Not adobo, which took me 15 years to learn; not sinigang, which I could not stand to eat till I was in my forties. Apart from grilled cheese and liver pâté sandwiches my father taught me to make for our midnight snack dates, lasagna was the only thing I knew how to make for years. I learned from necessity, because I wanted to eat it.

In the beginning, I cooked only for myself. I would make one 9 x 13 pan and devour it in one sitting. No leftovers, I’m not kidding! Well, most of the time, really, heehee. Today, I’m sorry I did not share with my brothers and sisters more, maybe then, I’d  have shared part of my heft too.

When I had made the dish enough times, I found the confidence to share it with others. And so, I made it for my friends in med school. They seemed to like it, judging by the empty pans I would lug home. Well, it was that, or they were just being kind to me.

I also made lasagna to impress my then-boyfriend and years later, when we got married, the dish became his special request for occasions like his birthday or our anniversaries. Of course, as much as we would have wanted to have it everyday, it was a bit over our measly budget as newlyweds and, later on, too labor intensive for new parents.

One memory that comes to mind when I think about lasagna happened when we were very young. On his 25th birthday, amid a series of family disputes (long story), I burnt the lasagna meant for his birthday dinner. In the drama of the day, I totally forgot about it and by the time I remembered, thick, black smoke was coming out of the oven. I remember holding the burnt pan over the sink, crying over it and our woes. I was about to throw the whole thing in the trash when A♥ silently took it from my hands. He set it on the table, helped himself to a huge serving, and ate it without complaint.

“Thank you for a wonderful birthday, hon,” he whispered in my ear.

“It’s burnt,” I bawled loudly.

“I could eat everything in one sitting. I love it because you made it. And I got to spend my birthday with you again,” he said gently.

I cried even harder after that. I also never burned a single pan after that day.

Last weekend, upon request, I made lasagna for the family and an extra pan for Alex’s friends. I worked late Friday night to get them ready and then woke up extra early to bake them. Making them was not easy for my numb, clumsy hands anymore, I discovered, but I worked with only the best ingredients and poured my best efforts into making sure they tasted the same as they always have.

Alex has already asked me to teach him how to make it. On occasions when he is inspired to make something more than a lazy cup of instant ramen, this son of mine dabbles in the kitchen. One day, he will be making the lasagna in the family. Hopefully, he will share it with friends, with loved ones, and with the family he will make. I find this thought comforting.

When he makes his own lasagna, he will be sharing more than just food that has become a special part of our family. He will be passing on years of our memories, of a family history that included one special dish, and all the joys and sorrows that came with it. He will also be passing on love and snippets of our lives.

Which, I hope, much like the lasagna I served for lunch last Saturday, will be enjoyed to the fullest and to the last bite.


Healthy Cooking for Happy Kids: A Review

27 Aug

I owe my kumareng Leirs this review. I had given her a copy of this short piece after I had come back home from Japan (and before my Dad got sick), but with all the things that have happened since then, I had been unable to attend to my blog to post this. So Mareng Leira, this comes with a lot of love and appreciation, as also my apologies. Thank you for sharing the cookbook with me. And thank you to Josh for “signing” my copy.

healthy cookingOne of the things I learned last as a married woman was cooking. Until I had children and, by necessity, had to learn to feed my family, my culinary experience was limited to a few specialty dishes that came in handy for impressing the occasional family guest. As the kids grew up and demanded a heartier-and healthier- fare than Spam and rice, I learned to work on my kitchen skills mostly by way of television cooking shows (Alton Brown was one I could easily relate too, being a geek myself). Then too, a library of cookbooks, and, later, recipes drawn from the Internet helped add to my self-acquired knowledge. Cooking was always a joy, although it was also often a hit-and-miss experience.

If there’s one cook book I hope every parent would have in his/her library, it would be Healthy Cooking for Happy Kids by Katrina Ripoll and Lara Saunders. Having read it and used it as a guide for my menu planning these past couple of weeks, I am glad to say that it is one great resource for parents on the lookout for healthy but easy ways to feed their kids. As a mother to almost-grown men (one is 21, the other, 19), there is still much the book offers even to those like me who’ve been kitchen cooks for the last two decades. The recipes are remarkably simple to prepare and follow; most do not require extraordinary ingredients but ones readily available at your local market or supermarket. And because they are simple and fuss-free, they don’t strain the household budget.

I like that the recipes are organized into sections that feature the main ingredients, but makes special the categories of breakfast and merienda, which, incidentally, is a lot of help as Filipinos are huge on great breakfast fares and snacks. The Chicken and Beef & Pork sections come very handy in spicing up our rotating menu. The chapter on Vegetables is a little thin but then again, other vegetable dishes can be found sprinkled in other sections. My favorite section would have to be Sauces and Marinades because those can be used in more ways than one can imagine and on just about anything!

Healthy Cooking for Happy Kids inspires parents like me to think outside the box when it comes to feeding our kids. Eating healthy is always a choice, and it is best we remember that our children’s choices begin with the ones we make for them.


A Taste of Korea

27 May

I discovered adventure in my palate late in life. Although I grew up in a family of great home cooks, I remained largely uneducated in matters of the kitchen until I got married and, by necessity, had to learn how to feed my family. I have to admit, cooking was a skill I did not master readily. It was this, however, that opened my senses to a more exquisite appreciation of food. Then too, age, wisdom, and the occasional travel gave me the impetus to explore beyond the limits of what I have been used to.

I’ve been to quite a few places over the last few years but my husband and I went to Seoul for the first time in December of last year. Not being a fan of Koreanovelas, K-POP, or even traditional Korean cuisine, I went to Seoul with a completely blank slate. No expectations.

Korea 01

Kittymama in Nami Island, S. Korea

Seoul, however, was prepared to win me over. Apart from all the history I imbibed in the days I spent there, she opened my eyes and taste buds to her gastronomy. It was in Seoul that I learned to eat bulgogi, bibimbap, kimchi, and oisaengchae, among others. I surprised myself by my willingness to take on these new food experiences when before, double-fried chicken fastfood-style was the full extent of my Korean food knowledge.

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All-you-can-eat buffets were our favorites during our visit to Seoul

And so, Seoul left me with a hankering for more of her, and in the months that have passed, I have been unable to satiate this longing. That is, until the day I visited Leann’s Tea House.

Ten minutes away from my own home, (fifteen if I add the traffic), Leann’s is situated along Mother Ignacia St., a stone’s throw away from Burger King in Timog Avenue. A three-storey edifice which was once the owners’ family home, this unassuming place is very reminiscent of the non-chain restaurants I visited in Seoul. With its cool, simple exterior, Leann’s seems determined to let its food speak for itself.

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From appetizers and side dishes to entrees and even drinks, Leann’s offers a unique degustation experience. Although its menu is relatively simple, allowing first timers to make uncomplicated choices, each of the item on the menu is a well-prepared, well-seasoned bite of Korea.

Take its L.A. Galbi (barbecued beef short ribs), easily the best choice in the menu. The galbi, cut in thin slices across the bone, is flavorful and rich, with just the right hint of sweetness marinated into the beef. Grilled on tabletop stoves before your eyes (you can do it yourself or have one of the staff help you with it), the galbi takes almost no time to cook and transforms into a melt-in-your-mouth experience. Pair it with some kimchi, which incidentally is made from scratch by the kitchen and is not of a canned variety, or spicy cucumber slices (oi muchim), and the balance of flavors is divine.

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The spicy dak gui or spicy chicken barbecue is also a favorite. The chicken is soft but cooked thoroughly and explodes into your mouth with heat, sweetness, and tanginess.

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For soup, we sampled the seafood doenjang jigae or mixed seafood in soybean soup. Robust and hearty, doenjang is a stew made from the freshest vegetables and choicest seafoods steeped in a soybean paste broth. It’s unusual to enjoy hot soup on an even hotter summer day, but doenjang is filling and rounds up the meal nicely, especially if one is not a able to partake of the rice choices in the menu.

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The japchae (glass noodles with beef and vegetables) and bibimbap (mixed rice) all received rave reviews from my feast mates, although I had to abstain myself from the temptation.

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 Temptation…temptation… I love japchae!

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Look at all the vibrant colors in this bibimbap! Does it scream “eat me!” to you?

A house special, the tonkatsu kimbap, was also a big hit, and because it was served as small rice rolls wrapped in breaded pork, I was able to allow myself one for tasting. It was, indeed, as yummy as it looked.

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Leann’s also offers a wide variety of drinks and cocktails, as well as shakes and smoothies that are good enough to be dessert. Soju, Korea’s most popular alcoholic beverage, is the base for most of the cocktails and can give one a good buzz. Worth mentioning is their Paradise Passion smoothie, which is peanut butter, banana, vanila and oreos blended in a chocolate smoothie to die for.

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Soju on the Beach + Paradise Passion = a very good time!

At the end of the meal, dessert teas (in lemon citron or honey jujube flavors) are given, compliments of the house. After such a generous repast, the teas are refreshing palate cleansers. Light and aromatic, they are a perfect ending to the meal.

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If there is one word that describes Leann’s Tea House and its food, it is this: honest. With its sedate and calming interiors, food prepared authentically and sourced from the best ingredients, and service that is heartwarming and welcoming, Leann’s takes the best of family restaurants and makes it a culinary experience worth coming back for.

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Drop by and say “anyoung haseyo” to Leann’s Tea House at 105-R New World Town Homes, Mother Ignacia Street, Quezon City or call +632-411-8902 for reservations. You can also check out offerings and events at Leann’s Tea House’s Facebook page here.

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Special thanks to Leann’s Tea House for hosting such a gracious meal and to Mommy Bloggers Philippines for the great company!

Leann 18



For Bok Choy and Broccoli

7 Jun

bokchoyandbroccoliMy friend Boots and her son Joshua of Kuya’s Notebook is launching a food blog and I wanted to give my wholehearted support for their joint project. It’s called Bok Choy and Broccoli and will feature vegetarian dishes kitchen-tested by mom Boots and approved by Josh and the whole Cobler family.

I have to say upfront, though, that I am an omnivore. As an “all-eater,” I have eaten plants, animals, algae and fungi, often without thought to how they got on my table. But Boots and Josh’s campaign to get more people eating fruits and vegetables, as opposed to meat, is a wonderful step to reducing our dependence on animal protein. I may not completely go vegetarian but I am willing to modify my diet to make it as healthy and as cruelty-free as possible.

And so this morning, I share with you this video, and anyone who has ever had second thoughts about vegetarianism will agree that this makes an absolutely strong case for it.

This is for Boots and Joshua, and for Bok Choy and Broccoli.

I wanted to put this in, a quote attributed to (I couldn’t access the site to verify) and which came from the Mail & Guardian Online article penned by Haji Mohamed Dawjee: “It just goes to show, compassion towards all animals doesn’t have to be taught. It is only untaught.”


Update: I changed the source of the YouTube video because it inexplicably disappeared. Bok Choy and Broccoli is up! 🙂

PonDeRing* a Mr. Donut Experience

30 Apr

I haven’t been to the Greenhills Shopping Center in ages but I finally found a reason to drop by again: Mr. Donut Cafe. I’ve been dreaming of the Pon de Ring since my post on the Hello Kitty x Mr. Donut collaboration in Japan and you know me, I have never been able to wield an iron will when it comes to food, much more, donuts.

I dropped by late Sunday afternoon for a quick take-away of the Pon de Ring. I wasn’t expecting the store to be full, but it was, save for a few recently vacated tables. A quick scan of the patrons showed a preponderance of the older age groups (read: my age and older *coughs*) and just a smattering of the young ones. Perhaps it was the time of the day, I really couldn’t tell.

I took a quick pic of the store with my iPhone, so I apologize for the dark picture.

mrdonut 01 copy

Inside, the place was warm and cozy, bright and inviting. I had to angle the picture and take surreptitious shots to avoid taking pictures of the other patrons of the store.

mrdonut 03 copyThe treasure vault, heehee.

Since I came for the Pon de Ring, that was exactly what I ordered- a six-box of mixed donuts. I don’t know why I got a six-box. I could have gone larger but I wasn’t really planning on sharing. Bad, I know. 🙂

mrdonut 04 copy

I brought home a mixed box of glazed and premium donuts- three glazed ones and one each of chocolate, cheese, and cookies and cream. I would have gone for Almond but they were all out. Rocky Road, Sans Rival, Gummy Bears, and Sugar raised are the other flavors but I chose to stick with crowd favorites. The glazed donuts cost P29 each while the flavored ones cost P10 more. Not a bad deal, really.

mrdonut 05 copy

Verdict: Glazed Pon de Rings would be my first choice. The glaze was sweet but not too much; it covered enough of the donut to satisy a sweet tooth but not leave it in real danger of cavities.

In my opinion, all the other fancy toppings took away from the flavor of the dough. For example, the chocolate variant was alright, though it had so many things going on at the same time. A simple chocolate glaze would have sufficed. Also, I was confused about the cheese Pon de Ring because it had so much cream. Not only was it messy to eat, the cream overpowered the flavors of the dough and the cheese. (I realized it tasted like a confused ensaimada, hehehe.) I’m not going for that again. The cookies and cream donut worked best, I think, though the toppings had a tendency to fall off whole from the Pon de Ring.

I read recommendations to eat the Pon de Ring within five hours of baking to get the best of its flavors and while I agree that freshness counts, the Pon de Ring can stand a day in the ref without loss of flavor or making it tough to eat. To make sure it tastes its best, remove it from the refrigerator fifteen minutes before eating and let it warm down on its own. No heating required. It was still really, really good a day after. 🙂

Will I be coming back to buy more? You betcha. I am hooked on Pon de Ring, and Mr. Donut has got me wishing to go back again. This time, it’ll not be just for the Pon de Rings- I can’t wait to try their Donut Burger!

mr. donut burger

Will it be better than my homemade donut burgers? We’ll have to see, won’t we?


*Pon de Ring- a chewy donut made of eight donut “holes” stuck together to form a ring

Pondering (verb)- to reflect or consider with thoroughness and care.

A Critter in the Kitchen

24 Apr

I was reading RocketNews24 on the iPad yesterday afternoon when a little critter pounced on the screen. I let out a little squeak in suprise and almost dropped the iPad. A little white critter stood before me, looking at me imperiously. It was Kittymama.

I hadn’t seen Kittymama all day yesterday as she hid in the safety pockets of my Pacsafe Toursafe handbag. Kittymama had been complaining of the heat these last few days and her little mewling whines had been getting to me. We haven’t been exactly getting alongas she complained almost daily about the heat, about the lack of airconditioning, even about her accommodations.  As it turned out, the only reason she had ventured out of her cocoon was because she was hungry.

Kittymama:Meow! I am ravenous!”

Me: But didn’t you have halo-halo for dessert just a few hours ago? And before that, you had two porkchops and a bowl of rice!

Kittymama: Meow, meow…But it’s so hot! And I am hungry! (stomps her feet)

rocket food 01

Kittymama: (looking at the iPad) Well, what about this? Can I eat this? Can we make this? Can we? This looks yummy! I can do this all by myself, you know, and I wouldn’t even need your help. Meow! (eyebrows raised)

Me: Oh, really? Well, let’s see you try!

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Kittymama: Oh, thank you, kind one (sarcastic tone). Apparently, my friend here is a sizist and discriminates against little critters like me-

Me: I do not! I vehemently deny that! I just don’t like bossy little critters who demand to be fed all day!

Kittymama: Tsk…tsk… so you say…so you say… (dismissively). Let me continue my commentary then. I am sure MY readers would be glad to hear from me-

Me: YOUR readers? You’re in MY blog! (starts tearing hair in exasperation!)

Kittymama: Meow! Meow! The ref and pantry were poorly stocked yesterday but since I am quite an expert in the kitchen, (pauses, waits for applause) I was able to substitute.  I used ham for bacon, whole cheese for cheese slices, and regular loaf bread for thickly-sliced sandwich bread.

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Kittymama: I cut a rectangle out of the bread, setting the piece aside for later use. Be sure not to cut too close to the edge or your sliced bread will break. Thick slices of extra-large loaf bread are better for this but since I had none yesterday, I settled for what was in the kitchen.

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Kittymama: I fried the ham quickly just to shorten the process of cooking when I put them all together.

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Kittymama: In a separate nonstick pan, I put the bread- the one with the hole- and cracked an egg inside the hole. I placed a little butter in the pan to brown the bread. Oh, I just love butter! Don’t forget to season with a little bit of salt!

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Kittymama: Once the egg is half cooked, I added the ham, cheese slices and the piece of bread, which I have buttered on the outer side. I flipped the whole thing on the other side to cook it evenly.

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Kittymama: And voila! A self-contained ham, cheese, and egg sandwhich!  What could be easier?

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Kittymama: It’s very filling, and ordinarily, just one SCHCES is enough for a person! But seeing how famished I was from the heat yesterday, I thought it best to save two for me. A glass of Coke Zero on the side completed this perfect afternoon snack! Thank you very much!

Me: I’m glad you had a great snack, seeing how you didn’t even leave one for me! Next time, Kittymama, I am coming with you in the kitchen!


Friends, if you want to extend your ingredients to make more SCHCESes, you can use beaten eggs instead of whole eggs, and divide one beaten egg into two slices of bread. You can also make the ham smaller to fit just the rectangular hole in the bread. Ditto with the cheese. You may skip the butter too especially if you are using nonstick or well-seasoned pans.

Thank you to RocketNews24 for this wonderful inspiration! You can read the article here.

Picky Picky Ponky

25 Sep

Early last night, just before dinnertime, I was surprised by loud wailing from inside the schoolhouse. It was Alphonse and he was crying his heart out. Alarmed, I made discreet inquiries from his nannies before rushing to his aid. Turns out that “our baby simply hated his din-din.”  *shakes head*

Apparently, as soon as he saw his dinner of breaded porkchops, steamed rice, and stir-fried vegetables last night, he went into a howling fit. He shook his head repeatedly and made several attempts to make wall art out of his dinner. The nannies took away his food and we all decided to let him calm down before re-offering it again. Unfortunately, nothing could make him eat his porkchops without incurring what we now call The Wrath of the Titan (shouting, stomping, howling, and all kinds of sound effects- thank God only that!).

It was A♥ to the rescue!. His dad took him out for a drive as soon as he was calm enough. And, as usual, Papa had to be the favorite parent by bringing Alphonse to a McDonald’s Drive-Thru for fried chicken. As soon as Alphonse saw the golden arches, he started purring with delight. He smiled throughout the drive home and skipped happily to have his dinner.

Now we have food issues!

My boy, the drama king.