Saturday, November 27, 2010

Mmmmmmonkey Bread!

What better childhood memory than one that's fragrant with cinnamon, sugar, and freshly baked bread?

My friend Michele remembers how her mom used to bake bread every Monday. "She'd make enough bread for the whole week. And she'd use the same dough to make cinnamon buns for dessert."

Imagine coming home to a warm house filled with the aroma of baking bread. Is there anything more wholesome, more comforting - and more nostalgic? Certainly the days when moms regularly made their own bread are all but gone. But it's good to know that the recipes are still there for us to pull out and dust off whenever we want to take the time to bake bread at home.

Here's an old-fashioned treat that kids will love. It's easy enough that they can help you do it. You don't need any special equipment for it other than a bundt pan. Make it a real family event - perhaps some snowy afternoon this winter. While waiting for the dough to rise, play board games or read books....then watch their faces light up as you pull out the finished product and turn it out onto a plate.

adapted from a recipe from

For the dough:
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup butter
1 tsp. salt
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup warm water
2 packages instant yeast (1 package = about 2 1/4 teaspoons or 1/4 ounce)
If you are confused about yeast, you might find this article helpful.
2 eggs
4 cups sifted flour

For the glaze:
1/2 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup chopped walnuts
2 tsp. cinnamon

In a microwaveable bowl or measuring cup, heat the milk for about 90 seconds on high. Add the butter, sugar, and salt and mix well. Cool to lukewarm.

Warm up a large bowl by running hot water over it. Measure in the warm water. Sprinkle the yeast evenly over the surface of the water and stir together until dissolved.

Add the milk mixture, the eggs, and 2 cups of the flour.

Mix until smooth with a sturdy whisk or wooden spoon.

Stir in the remaining 2 cups flour. At this point I like to roll up my sleeves and use my hands to mix and knead the dough until it comes together in a large ball.

Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel and set in a warm place. Allow to rise until doubled in size (about an hour).

In a saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and stir in the brown sugar and cinnamon.

Mix well and add the chopped walnuts.

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Punch the dough down. Pinch off small pieces and roll into them into 1 1/2 inch balls. Dip the balls into the melted butter and sugar mixture.

Arrange the balls in layers in a buttered bundt pan.

Allow to rise again, covered, in a warm place for another half an hour.

Bake in a preheated oven for about 40 minutes or until done. Remove from pan while still warm.

Serve with hot chocolate or ice cream!


Saturday, November 20, 2010

Homemade Pan De Sal

When I was little, one of life's great pleasures was to be allowed to ride my bicycle a few blocks to the neighbourhood bakery, where you could buy Spanish bread, coconut buns, egg pies....or a brown paper bagful of hot pan de sal.

The words hot pan de sal are enough to make any Filipino's eyes light up. Food can't get any simpler or more delicious than these small, plain rolls. They're good for breakfast, lunch, afternoon merienda, or anytime in between. (In a pinch, thy're good for dinner, too.)

Have them naked and unadorned, or spread with butter, dunked in coffee or hot chocolate, or split and filled with sardines, ham, Spam, corned beef, liverwurst, scrambled eggs, cheese, leftover adobo... Like the Filipino, pan de sal is delightfully agreeable as well as incredibly versatile and adaptable to any situation.

When buying pan de sal, beware of counterfeits. My local Filipino bakery does a brisk trade in large, soft, sweet rolls they call pan de sal. They're good, but they're not exactly pan de sal. The real pan de sal, as my mom contends, is crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. They're not sweet, either, but slightly salty. (The literal translation of the name is bread of salt, or salt bread.)

This cold, snowy weekend was a good time to make pan de sal from scratch. I like this recipe because it calls for overnight refrigeration of the dough, so if you want fresh, hot pan de sal for breakfast, you can start it the night before and finish baking the next morning.

Pan De Sal
adapted from a recipe by Jude over at

Makes 12 rolls

2 1/4 cups bread flour (white or a mix of white and whole wheat)
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/4 cup bread crumbs

In a large bowl, whisk the flour and yeast together.

In a measuring cup, dissolve the sugar and salt in the warm water. Whisk in the vegetable oil.

Add the water mixture to the flour mixture and stir with a large wooden spoon until it just starts to come together. Finish by hand and knead until smooth. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap, then with a tea towel, and leave the dough to rise in a warm place for about two hours, or until it has doubled in size.

Turn out the dough onto a clean, lightly floured surface. Roll out the dough into a log about two inches wide.

With a bench scraper, cut the roll into 12 pieces.

Place the pieces cut side up into a plastic container, seal tightly, and place in the fridge overnight.

In the morning, preheat the oven to 425F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Roll each piece of dough in bread crumbs and line them up on the sheet. Bake for 10 minutes, rotate the sheet, and bake a few minutes more. You are looking for a deep golden-brown crust.

Who knew pan de sal would be so easy to make at home? Betcha can't eat just one!


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Preserving a legacy, building a future: Filipino dance in Vancouver

Photo credit: Ron Sombilon

Ricepaper Magazine recently asked me to write up Kababayang Pilipino, a Vancouver-based performing arts group. Check out the story which was posted today on the Ricepaper website.

Preserving a legacy, building a future: Filipino dance in Vancouver


Monday, November 15, 2010

Simply Delicious Steak

My Tita Cynthia has been in the meat business a long time, so I believe her when she says that rib-eye is the best cut of beef for steak.

And my sister Cookie (whose word I'm prepared to take in all things kitchen related - "cook" is part of her name, after all) says that the best way to cook a steak is to rub it on both sides with salt and pepper and slap it on a sizzling hot cast-iron grill pan.

Ecco. A juicy, tender, well-marbled rib-eye steak. Freshly ground sea salt and pepper. Cast-iron pan at the ready. Just one more thing will rocket this recipe to red-meat heaven: a combination of chopped Italian (flat-leaf) parsley, chopped fresh garlic, and olive oil. Presto - a quick, easy recipe for middle-of-the-week dinners, or impromptu weekend lunches, or anytime you want to sink your teeth into a good steak. Buon appetito!

Italian-Style Steak

2 rib-eye steaks
sea salt and peppercorns, 2 teaspoons of each, ground together
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced finely
2 teaspoons olive oil

Heat up a cast-iron grill pan. It's ready when you sprinkle a few drops of water on it and they dance around.

Rub the steaks with the salt and pepper on both sides.

Throw the steaks onto the hot grill. Keep the heat at medium-high and cook for 5 minutes on each side.

You can stop at this point and have the steaks just as they are. The meat will be done to medium-rare perfection. Or, as Emeril says, you can "kick it up a notch" by going on to the next step.

While the steaks are cooking, heat the olive oil in a small skillet. Add the parsley and garlic, and saute until fragrant, one or two minutes. Set aside.

Slice the steaks into 1/2 inch-thick strips on the diagonal.

Return the steak slices to the still-hot grill pan along with the parsley and garlic; toss quickly so that the pieces are coated evenly. You can cook them longer if you like your steak well-done, but I like mine nicely crusted on the outside but still delicately pink in the middle.

Serve pronto.


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Say what? Wabi sabi?

One of the most liberating ideas I've ever come across is this short sentence: "God is perfect, but He is not a perfectionist."

It was when I first read this that I realized that's exactly what I was: a perfectionist with a capital P. Picky, fussy, never satisfied. I was firmly convinced that the only way a thing was going to get done properly was if I did it myself, so I never delegated anything and never asked for help. In many ways I'm still like that, but I'm learning to let go, a little bit at a time.

Coming across this article in an old Women's Day magazine really helped: Making Peace with Imperfection, which advocates a more relaxed attitude towards life, based on wabi sabi, the Japanese appreciation of the beauty to be found in flaws. (Actually, at first glance I thought the article was about wasabi, which was why I started reading it!)

Living the wabi sabi way basically means being content with who you are, how you look, and what you have. It's about living in the moment and being grateful for the good things you hold in your hands right now.

This is not to say that it's okay to stop exercising, eating well, doing the best job we can, and working on our relationships. It simply means that we give everything our best shot, while being resolved to be happy with whatever the outcome.

Wabi sabi acknowledges three simple realities: nothing lasts...

Something else that really helps is having a wabi sabi "coach": someone in your life who loves you just the way you are, who makes you feel it's absolutely okay to be just you. Find someone like this, and you'll discover that, funnily enough, knowing it's okay to be you actually makes you want to be the best you that you can be. The difference between this and perfectionism is that you want to be the best for all the right reasons.

.... nothing is finished.....

Maybe for you that person will be a friend, or a family member. Maybe it will be God. Maybe you yourself are that person for someone else in your life. It's certainly a beautiful blessing to have, and a beautiful blessing to be.

.... and nothing is perfect.


Monday, November 08, 2010

I blinked...

...and suddenly, it's November!  Days are shorter, colder, and darker - so it was great to get take a short "trip" to India this past weekend with my girls' club, where we soaked in lots of light and warmth and colour.

In honour of Diwali, the festival of light, we painted glass tea light holders.

Indian flavours do to the palette what Indian colours do to the eyes.  In your next bowl of quinoa, try a touch of curry powder, contrasted with cool, sharp mint.

3-Karat Quinoa

2/3 cups raw quinoa, soaked for 15 minutes in cold water, then rinsed
1 tablespoon butter 
2 shallots, minced
1 teaspoon curry powder
2 cups vegetable broth
3 carrots, peeled and diced
a handful of chopped fresh mint

Saute the shallots in the butter until transluscent.

Add the curry powder and cook for one minute, until fragrant.

Add the quinoa and broth, bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer and cover.  After 15 minutes, add the carrots and cook for 5-10 minutes more, until all the liquid has been absorbed.

Remove from the heat and stir in the chopped mint.

Serve as a side dish or main course - quinoa is a complete protein! 

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