Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Mashed potatoes and....cauliflower?

I would never have thought of mashing cauliflower, let alone adding it to mashed potatoes. But I was at a fancy banquet recently, wondering what was lending such a subtle flavour to the mashed potatoes, and the banquet organizer told me that the chef had told her it was cauliflower. Genius.

The chef wasn't about to reveal his recipe though, so I had to make up my own. The chives are my own addition, for a touch of green and even more flavour. Served it up last Saturday and BFF Berns said it was the best mashed potatoes she'd ever had. Then again, she could be biased. So try it yourself and see if you agree.


4 large russet potatoes
1 head cauliflower, green parts removed
1/2 cup whole milk, half and half, or table cream, warmed
1/2 cup butter, melted
Bunch of chives, chopped (save buds for garnish)
Salt and pepper to taste

Peel and quarter the potatoes and put in a heavy bottomed pot along with the cauliflower florets and enough water to come halfway up the sides of the pot. Cover and bring to a boil, then lower heat slightly and cook until soft (about 1/2 hr-45 mins).

Remove from heat and drain off the liquid, but leave a little bit in.

Mash with a potato masher. Stir in the warmed milk or cream, melted butter, and chives. (Are you drooling yet?)

Season, garnish and enjoy!


Sunday, July 25, 2010

Homemade Tahini-Based Dips

Tahini, or sesame paste, is a staple ingredient of Middle Eastern cuisine. It's sold in most supermarkets, or you can make your own at home.

I got introduced to tahini years ago, after having a delectable dip called baba ganoush at my brother-in-law's mother's house. Researching the ingredients, I discovered that it's made of mashed eggplant and tahini, and that it's very simple to make.

Grillng the eggplants gives the baba ganoush a smokey flavour, making it an ideal summer appetizer. But when I get a hankering for it in the cold months, I simply grill the eggplants right over the hot stove coils. It makes a mess, but it works.


2 large Japanese eggplants (I use this variety, as opposed to the fatter Italian eggplants, because they are faster to grill and are more flavourful)
6-8 tablespoons tahini
1 large clove garlic, peeled and mashed to smooth pulp with a sprinkling of coarse salt (easily done with a mortar and pestle, or on your cutting board with the edge of your knife)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil

Grill the eggplants until soft and blackened all over. Pop them into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap to steam for a few minutes. Cut off the stems and peel off the blackened skins.

Place in a food processor along with the rest of the ingredients. Pulse a few times for a rough consistency, or puree until smooth.


Growing up in the Philippines, I was not a big fan of chickpeas. They were what some cooks used as a filler in stews, but I was able to muster about as much enthusiasm for their presence in my callos as for an unwanted guest at a party. Luckily, you can shove chickpeas off to the side of your plate and ignore them without too much guilt.

I'm still not a fan of whole chickpeas, but hummus is another story. I love creamy, garlicky hummus with just a hint of lemon. It's delicious; it's nutritious; and it's super-easy to make.

This recipe uses the same basic ingredients as baba ganoush, replacing the eggplants with 2 cups chickpeas (I use canned chickpeas and leave some of the liquid in for a creamier consistency).

Serve these two dips with pita or bagel chips, or fresh veggies, and olives, roasted red peppers, and cubes of feta cheese.


It's not Seventeen's a whole lot better

Carole King sings this song called So Far Away.   There's a line in it that goes, "It would be so fine to see your face at my door..."

I can't tell you how many times I've listened to this song over the years, thinking of all the well-beloved faces I longed to see at my door.

Last night, by a happy coincidence, my college BFFs Berns and Prixie arrived at my place at the same time with their husbands, and they all walked through my door together.  It was a sight worth waiting eighteen years to see.

Call me sentimental if you like, but I think I'm going to have let the photos do the talking.  Right now, all I can say is, "Thank you, God, for good friends!"

A feast fit for a reunion.  Recipes to come soon!


Friday, July 23, 2010

Bench Bunch: The Reunion

The Bench Bunch at Christmas 
So two of my BFFs from college are coming over for dinner tomorrow.  Berns is driving up from Washington State; Prixie flew in earlier this week, all the way from the Philippines, where we lived and laughed and were young together.

Prixie's the one I wrote about in an earlier post, the friend I found on Facebook when a friend tagged a picture of her that another friend had posted.  Berns was the tagger.  The poster, Monica, is back in the Philippines plotting another reunion in five years, with all members of the Bench Bunch hopefully present.  Who knows, it just might happen.  In the meantime, the three of us will make the most of this mini-reunion.

We called ourselves the Bench Bunch because we used to hang out at a particular bench in the college quad, handily located just outside the cafeteria. Two benches, actually, that faced each other, where we preferred to sit in all but the wettest weather, braving even the higad (itchy caterpillars) that occasionally dropped down from the tree branches overhead.

That was literally half a lifetime ago.  My memories of that time are filled with sunshine and laughter and guitar music, and they kept me warm through many winters that followed after.  They still do.

Tomorrow will be the first time we three are going to sit down together as grown-ups.  (I think the last time we three were at dinner together was on this occasion - my eighteenth birthday!)  Both Berns and Prixie are bringing their faces in a circle that's growing ever-wider.

So what to cook for this singularly special dinner?  It's a surprise, but let me say that I think I'm getting good at these make-ahead dinners.  Homemade dips and appies: chilling nicely in the fridge.  Ingredients for main dish: defrosting.  Last-minute run to the green grocer for fresh veggies: check.  Liquor store for drinks: check.  Dessert: in freezer.  Tonight I'll be setting the table and getting all the serving dishes ready.   My main goal is not to be dashing around the kitchen like a madwoman when the guests arrive....this truly defeats the purpose of entertaining!

Stayed tuned for more Bench Bunch stories, and tips on how to make your make-ahead dinner a success! 


Monday, July 19, 2010

Urban Jungle series

I love this pool that's shaped like a giant leaf.
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Saturday, July 17, 2010

Smoothie on my doorstep

You probably have your own ideas about how best to spend this gorgeous July Saturday morning. Me, I'm peacefully sitting on my own doorstep, watching the world go by, and sipping this deliciously refreshing homemade smoothie.

No matter what your plans are this weekend, don't forget to start your day with a healthy breakfast!


1 1/2 cups tropical nectar (I used Sun Tropics mango nectar, made from Philippine mangoes - the best the in the world!)
1/2 mixed frozen berries (you can use any fruit you want; you can also use fresh fruit and add 4 ice cubes to the mix)

Blend until smooth and serve immediately!


Friday, July 16, 2010

Urban Jungle photo

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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Droppings ni Lolo - or, Shit My Grandpa Says

Until the day she died, at the ripe old age of 93, my Lola Anita - God rest her soul - could remember all her family members' birthdays (day, month, year) and full names (if you are familiar with the Filipino tendency to have three or more given names, you will admit that this was no mean feat).

Her son-in-law, my Lolo D, has a remarkable memory too - remarkable, that is, for its unreliability. He doesn't forget names and terms - he just mixes them up...often with hilarious consequences.

I remember he used to call our household help by the wrong names. Not each other's names, but his own made-up approximations of their real names. It was a great source of entertainment for all of us, as we constantly had to guess whom he was referring to.

He calls roast beef drippings "droppings" and describes scantily clad people as "wearing nothing but their heebie-jeebies." Maybe because the sight of scantily clad people gives him the heebie-jeebies.

Newly settled in Montreal, he was informed he had to obtain a hospital card in addition to the provincial health care card. Accordingly, he and my mother went to have the necessary paperwork filled out and filed. The clerk assisting him asked, "And in which department of the hospital is your doctor practicing?"

"Gynecology," Lolo D answered.

The clerk gave him the fish eye over the top of her glasses and said, "I don't think so." At which point, my mother, red-faced, intervened. "It's geriatrics. Geriatrics." And in an aside to my grandfather, "You are embarrassing. I'm never going with you to the hospital again."

The latest incident occurred at the dinner table just last week. I wasn't there, but my sister was. She told me all about it over the phone, and we both laughed till we cried.

Lolo D had brought home a box of donut holes, or as we call them in Canada, Timbits. Mom popped them into the fridge. Later, while they were having dinner, someone wondered aloud what to have for dessert. Lolo D turned to Mom and asked, "Where are my balls?"

He blames all of this on a family propensity for malapropisms. My grandmother called it "having senior moments." Whatever it is, I think I've inherited it. I told my sister the other day that I had learned a new word. Guddling. "It's what you do to a mint leaf to bruise it before adding it to a mojito," I explained.

Long pause at the other end of the line. "I think you mean muddling," she said at last.

Oops, okay. Muddling. "But guddling is a word too," I insisted.

Another long pause. "Uh-huh...." she said. "But it's definitely not what you do to a mint leaf."

Wondering why the long pauses, I looked up the word "to guddle." Of Scottish origin, it has many meanings, some rather less savoury than others. And my sister was right - none of them has any connection to mint leaves whatsoever.

I guess I'll be thinking twice from now on before laughing at Lolo D's latest. There's just no escaping heredity. Or karma. 


Monday, July 05, 2010

It's barbecue season...., if only the weather would cooperate!

I've been to three barbecues this week. Two of them were rained out. Not to worry: our spirits remained undampened, even if the patio furniture didn't. But it would be nice to have some warmer, sunnier weather - it is, after all, July!

Well, we had a nice day today. And even if summer is taking its time this year, I have memories of past barbecues to keep me warm.

The smoky aroma of barbecue brings me right back to my childhood, when all it took was for a few friends of my parents to drop by, and presto! We were having a party. The grown-ups would go off to market and come back with loads of wonderful things to eat: tomatoes and onions, salted eggs, green and yellow mangoes, cantaloupes, watermelons, sweet rice cakes, fish and shrimp and mussels and clams, cases of my dad's favourite Red Horse beer.

Most importantly, there was meat - freshly sliced pork and choice pieces of chicken, which would soon be marinating in huge green plastic tubs, because the kitchen bowls weren't big enough.

We had a concrete barbecue pit built right onto our patio, with a wide brick ledge all around for holding platters and utensils. Ronnie, my dad's right-hand man, would stand there, wielding an anahaw fan, coaxing the coals into a white-hot smoulder, and barbecuing the first pieces of meat, which he skewered onto thin whittled bamboo sticks for easy handling.

In Canada, we managed to build a barbecue pit ourselves with stackable bricks.

And then other friends and family would start arriving, and Pops would start opening the beer bottles and serving up the sizzling barbecue. Our sprawling garden would be filled with laughter and conversation, everyone sitting at long tables spread with fresh banana leaves that served as both tablecloth and plates - most convenient, not to mention eco-friendly!

Finally, when night fell, and all the barbecue was consumed, hands were washed and rubbed with lemon rinds, the patio cleared of chairs, and there would be dancing under the inky, star-pierced sky.

So, in celebration of one of summer's most beloved rituals, I offer you now my family's version of Filipino barbecue. It works well with both chicken and pork. Serve it with ice-cold beer and whatever sides and salads you like - but remember, it tastes best when accompanied by laughter and music, and if you can get it, a skyful of stars.


2 kg pork shoulder, sliced thinly
1 cup soy sauce
1 can 7-Up
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 head garlic, peeled and crushed
pepper to taste

Combine the soy sauce, 7-Up, sugar, garlic, and pepper in a large bowl and whisk to mix well. Add the meat and marinate for at least two hours. Thread the meat onto bamboo skewers and grill on both sides.

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