Friday, October 31, 2008

Jason's Deli Bans HFCS

Amazing ... Jason's Deli has removed high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) from its menu items.  Frankly, I say good for them!  I read their site regarding this move and find that I really agree with their owner.

I'm not sure I agree with their stance on MSG.  The problem with MSG is that there is a fair percentage of people who are mildly, or worse, allergic to it.  I'm not one of them, so I like MSG.

But, back to my spiel ... does bread really need such sweetening?  No.  Not at all.

And yet, industrial bakeries pour the gunk into our bread all the time.  Not only just bread, just about everything else.  It's like the corporate "chefs" think that we all want everything to be sweet.

People are really missing out when they eat this sweetened garbage.  A nice savory dish is so great.  By pouring sweetened syrup all over (and in) everything, we miss out on good food.

When you go to the store, read the ingredient list on what you buy.  You'd be so shocked how many forms of sugar go into everything. 

Stop buying this junk.  Take the time to make things yourself. 

Yes, take the time!  I know how hard it is to find space in one's packed schedule to cook.  Food is food?  Right.


Make the time ... you and your family are worth it.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Daring Bakers Sadness

This month, the Daring Bakers are making Nature's Most Perfect Food ... pizza!  It is with great sadness that I'm not posting along with them.

I used to make pizza at my oven's highest temperature ... 460F (238C).  Now, it barely reaches 375F (190C) ... and, slips lower with each passing day.  My oven is a failing thermostat.

So, I apologize to those who came here hoping to see pizza pictures.

I will do this challenge.  Just not until I have working equipment.

Sorry ...

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


I've been asked by more than a few people ... why did I leave the US and move to the Philippines?

There are a number of reasons why I left. Most fairly personal and not really important to this blog.

I think, though, that the important question is "why do I stay?" I think this photo, taken from the 4th floor balcony at the Leyte Park Resort, explains everything ...

Monday, October 27, 2008

Fresh Fish For Sale

Last week we went to the beach for Leyte Landing Day (October 20th).  The Leyteños celebrate General MacArthur's liberation of the Philippines in World War 2.  We did what seemingly everyone else on the island did ... went to the beach.

While we were there, a long boat pulled up.  Boxes were brought off and people surrounded the men on-shore.  I walked over to take a look.  Boxes crammed with smaller fish and ice.

Our driver pointed out to me some equipment on the boat.  He said it probably meant that they were dynamite fishing.  Grrr.  Not cool!

People didn't seem to mind.  P120 for very, very fresh fish is a good price.  We didn't buy any.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Pizza Hell

I was craving a pizza and feeling lazy at the same time.  So, we ordered pizza from a place in town we hadn't gone to before.  As those of you who have read my posts know, the take-out pizza around here isn't very good.  This new place wasn't so great, either.

I should have known I'd be disappointed.

Thing is, the pizza shows a little promise. A little hope. The toppings are good. So is the sauce.

Then, it all goes bad. The cheese used wasn't so good ... although, for P250 per pizza, I can't complain much about that. Getting real cheese here is expensive. So, this sin is forgivable.

The crust, isn't. It's a Bisquick crust. Blasphemy! As pizza sins go, this is a mortal sin. There just isn't any coming back from this one. The crust was like a cracker.

Note: I actually like Bisquick for the things at which it is good ... quick breads ... pancakes, dumplings, etc.  It makes those easy for those times when you just don't feel like going the whole distance.

Pizza crust is not a quick bread.  It is a real bread.  It needs real yeast.  I needs a rising, proofing, punching down, working, etc.  Anything else is a crime against all that is good in the world.

Now, you might be thinking ... "OK, James, so they screwed up the crust by being lazy, cow pie eating morons.  That doesn't make this pizza hellish, just bad.  Don't be so hard on them!"

Look closely at the picture.  See that white stuff?  Any guesses what it is?  We didn't spill any milk on this pizza.  The white hasn't been added through some kind of Photoshop-like software.  Want to know what it is?  Scroll down past the picture.

It's mayonnaise!  Not just any mayonnaise.  Philippine mayonnaise.  It's sweeter than that which we buy in the States (and, yes, if you're wondering, the Miracle Whip here is like a dessert topping).

There is no amount of repentance that can save their Culinary Souls.  They are condemned to Pizza Hell for Eternity.  May their cereal be soggy and their Coke be flat!

Morning at the Market

Saturday morning, we went to the Palo Market. This is just south of Tacloban ... just 10 minutes by car. We were looking for vegetables and beef.

Unfortunately, the beef had been butchered badly. The various vendors had random bits of beef from no discernible cuts. Very disappointing. I'm going to have to show up early and buy cuts directly when they are slaughtering the cows. That's 4am on Saturday mornings ... ugh.

Here are a few shots of our veggie hunting ...

Cheesemaking ... Mozzarella

I love good cheese. Getting it here is difficult, at best. So, I decided to learn how to make cheese myself.

I've made a sour cream-like substance for a while now. But, I wanted to get more serious ... step up to real cheeses. With my discovery of an actual dairy where I could purchase cow's milk that hadn't been destroyed by the ravages of heat, my hopes grew.

  • 4 liters cow's milk
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons citric acid
  • 1/2 rennet tablet
  • 3/4 cup water

I poured all of the delicious white liquid into my stew pot. Four liters of white gold.

I put it all over a low flame.

While the milk was heating up, I prepared the citric acid. I mixed the 1-1/2 teaspoons of citric acid with 1/2 cup of cold water. I stirred a lot to ensure that it was completely dissolved.

I waited impatiently for the milk to warm up to 90F (32C). I used my nifty space-age infrared thermometer. This thing is perfect for cheesemaking!

90F (32C) is the temperature at which I'll add the rennet. While waiting, I dropped the half rennet tablet into a glass with 1/4 cup of cold water. Again, like the citric acid, I mixed very well.

At 90F (32C) I added the rennet. I stirred well ensuring to stir up-and-down in the pot to get complete coverage.

I heated the batch up to 105F (40C). The recipe said that in three-to-five minutes I'd see curds. It didn't, so I added the other half of the rennet tablet.

That resulted in a pot that was almost completely coagulated. Oops.

I managed to fix the problem. I cut the curds and continue to maintain the heat at 105F (40C). The curds shrunk as they expelled their whey. Saved!

Once I'd cooked down the curds well, I dumped the whole pot through a metal strainer. I took out the curds and put them into a two quart microwave-safe bowl.

As per the recipe's instructions (this is from a book that I have, review coming later), I nuked the curds for a minute. Then, I kneaded the curds ... when they got cool, I nuked again for 30 seconds. Knead, nuke, repeat. Finally, I got to a point that I liked with the consistency.

Let me tell you, kneading hot cheese is not exactly a pleasant task. Ouch! Still, it was worth it.

I rolled up the curds like a ball of bread dough, bringing the edges in under and pushing up from inside.

The result? The lovely picture you see at the top of this post. I'm so proud!

Test Results

Primary Test Group: Tastes good. A little more salt would be nice.

Test Group C: Was confused about the cheese until I explained that it wasn't like Cheddar. It's intended to be melted on a pizza. Commented that the cheese needed more salt.

Test Group J: Unfortunately, they were in Cebu when I made the cheese. So, no feedback here.

Test Group M: "It tastes like mozzarella."

Potential Improvements

More salt. More kneading. Less rennet.

Potential Variations

This was the 30-minute method. It's really more like the Hour-or-Two Method. Still, the results are nice.

I want to try the traditional method for making mozzarella. The kind you see the Italian grandmothers do in delis.


I did it! I made my own mozzarella! I am so pleased.

I ended up using far too much rennet. So, no ricotta from this batch. In the future, I'll get better.

Still, P288 worth of milk (P72 per liter once we include the cost of diesel) made 550 grams of mozzarella. Here, mozzarella comes in 250 gram blocks for P240-to-P250. So, we got P530 worth of good mozz out of P288! If I back off on the rennet, I should get some ricotta, too!

The best thing is, I don't have to worry about when the stores will have the mozzarella in stock. I'm in control.

I like control ...

Thursday, October 23, 2008

TWD - Pumpkin Puree

With my oven's thermometer on strike, we've had repairmen in the kitchen a few times in the past couple of days. So, cooking has become a bit of a juggling act. Need to keep the thing cool so that the guys can do their job.

That said, I don't want to completely give up on Tuesdays with Dorie while I'm waiting for a working oven. The most recent recipe, Pumpkin Muffins, gave me an opportunity to do something ... while not the complete recipe, as I'm hesitant to do baking while the oven stays on temperature the way a small child holds still in a candy shop when told that everything is free.

The recipe called for pumpkin puree. If I were still in the US, I'd just drive down to my local mega-store and grab a can off the shelves. I can still see in my head the can with the white paper wrapper that I've bought for years when making pumpkin pies and pumpkin bread.

Here? When I asked about pumpkin puree, the one store that knew anything asked if it was for my baby ... Gerber, I guess, makes pureed pumpkin for the little ones. The others stores just looked at me like I was asking for moon rocks.

So ... make it myself. I'm enjoying that more and more. First, a trip to the mercado to get the closest things to pumpkins they have here. I think they're some kind of squash. But, the taste is pretty close.

  • 5 kilograms pumpkins

I took my pumpkins and sliced them in half around the middle. I wanted to use our big lechon knife, but, it was a little large. So, just my big Wüstof chef's knife I've had forever.

I scooped out the guts and the seeds. The guts won't go to waste ... we fed them to the pigs. The seeds I put into a roasting pan and have currently drying. I'll post more about the roasted seeds when they're done and tested.

I covered the pumpkin halves with foil and put them into my possessed oven for two hours at something close to 350F (175C).

When the pumpkins came out, I scooped out the majority of the meat ... careful to stay away from the sides and the bitter portions. I want sweet puree, not bitter junk. Again, the pigs got the remains. They were happy. They're getting fatter, that makes me happy, too.

The pumpkin meat was still a bit stringy ... fibrous. So, I put it into my blender and pulverized the meat.

Finally, I put the puree into a strainer for a couple of hours to drain off extra water.

Into a container and into the freezer ... to wait until my oven will cooperate and let me bake properly again.


Easy, easy to make. Probably will make a great baby food for my new niece due here in a week or so. We'll make more for her.

Cookie Cryogenics

My family loves cookies. I'm a big fan of variety. I don't want chocolate chip, chocolate chip, chocolate chip, chocolate chip, ad nauseum.

I'also m a big fan of things one can make ahead and then prepare at the last minute when required. While I would like to be able to spend eight hours a day in the kitchen, getting paid, doing what I like, that fantasy has yet to venture towards reality. So, I need to be efficient where I can be.

Naturally, I thought ... "can I freeze cookie dough?" I suspected that the answer was "no". The various items in the dough ... butter, eggs, other optional ingredients ... may not take a liking to the bitter cold of my freezer.

A couple weeks ago, thinking ahead for once, I tossed some of the white chocolate chip dough into the recesses of my deep freeze. I keep it at 0F (-18C). Brrrr!

Since my oven is being a bad child, I kept a close eye on the cooking process. That went well.

Unfortunately, the previously frozen cookies did not do so well. While they are acceptable for home eating (and I'm sure the ravenous beasts who masquerade as my Primary Test Team will make sure the cookies disappear), I would not pass them out to friends.

They're cookies only their baker could love ...

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Baking on Hold

AGH! I was making some cookies for an order last night when my oven decided that keeping a consistent temperature wasn't in its job description.

A repair man is on the way today or tomorrow. In the mean time, it's just cooking.

I picked up some pumpkin-like squash at the mercado today. I'll make puree for the latest Tuesdays with Dorie entry. Yes, I'm behind again. Since my oven is on strike, I'll just freeze the puree until my oven decides to cooperate with management's demands (work accurately, always, for free ... simple, eh?).

UPDATE: The thermometer in the oven portion is failing. Based on previous experience with this brand, I'm not sure how long I'll have to wait. So, looks like baking is on hold for quite a while.

Fortunately, savory foods aren't quite as temperature sensitive. I should be able to keep going with most. Pizzas won't be as nice, tho, since the oven won't get up to its high, high temperature like it did before.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Pizza for 13

Here at the house right now, we've got a lot of people. Me, my wife, my son, my mom, father-in-law, brother-in-law, brother-in-law's wife, cousin, two nieces, and a trio of nephews. Whew ... dinner each night is a production.

So, I decided to make pizza one night a while back. I'd forgotten that I wanted to post about this until I found the pictures on my backup phone's memory card (I take most pictures for this site on my cell phone).

They were just simple cheese pizzas ... six of them. Still, so yummy. Love the crusty cheese, thin crust.

Because there was enough dough to make, I got out Big Iron. I haven't used its bread hook in a long, long time. Years. Worked like a champ!

I found out that my family prefers a thick puffy crust with no texture. They all do! Heathens!

In the future, I'll make a thin crust for me and a thick, soulless crust for them.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

202.0 Kilometers ... A Milk Odyssey

As my legions of devoted fans know, cow's milk (gatas ng baka) is not common here. I've been looking for a good source for months.

By accident, I finally found a source at an agricultural college. P50 a liter, but we had to pick it up. The college is in Baybay. That's quite a ways from Tacloban. It would be an all-day trip. Still, I was willing.

So, last week I called my contact. I was informed that she and her husband had split up. It was he who could buy the milk.

Oh the pain! The pain!

So, I sent a text (SMS) to a friend of mine here who I know has a lot of good connections. Within a few hours, I received a text from his son-in-law (turns out, he's a big cooking fan, too ... need to talk to him!) with the phone number of the marketing director for a milk co-op in Ormoc. That's only 101km away!

The prices were quite reasonable. P60 for a liter of milk, P65 for a liter of chocolate milk. So, I ordered 20 liters of plain and 4 liters of chocolate.

A few days later, and a little by surprise, I receive a text saying that that he has the milk, it's in his car, where should he drop it off? Oh no! We're in Tacloban. That's two hours away (yes, only 101km on that road takes two hours) ... I tell him that we're coming but it's going to take a little bit.

So, I drop everything, we head out. We meet him in downtown Ormoc and he leads us to his storage house. We were worried about getting enough ice to take the milk back ... as most of the sari sari stores were out of ice. But, the milk was frozen! What luck!

We exchanged money and various phone numbers (cell phones, land lines, etc.) and I headed back to Tacloban with my treasure.

I computed the price of the milk based on the use of gas. It was P110 per liter for the plain, P115 for the chocolate. Pretty expensive milk.

But, oh so good ...

Next time we'll buy a lot more to reduce the per-liter gas expense.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

TWD - Lenox Almond Biscotti ... Golden Crunchy Ambrosia

Well, it's Wednesday night here. I almost made this ThWD (Thursdays with Dorie). Glad I made these. I'm not sure many around here will like them. Biscotti isn't exactly a mainstream food item here in the rural Philippines.

Interestingly enough, half-way through the process (before the second baking) they're excellent and make a nice sliced cookie (I ate the ends).

(I'll have a high-end photo shot tomorrow ... it's late and the biscotti is still cooling ... test results, too ... I wanted to get my initial photos and reactions from these amazing things up today)


Fundamentally, one makes this like a cookie. That's all it really is. Cream the butter, sugar, eggs, and almond extract well.

Whisk the dry goods together. Interestingly, this recipe includes a little corn meal.

Look at that gooey glob of goodness. I mixed just enough ... wanted to avoid making gluten. In bread, so good ... in cookies and similar ... so very bad.

I formed the dough into a pair of logs on a parchment-lined half-size baking sheet. This was messy. The dough loves to stick to everything.

Into the oven until it's golden brown ... oh, look at that. It's delicious already! I couldn't resist!

After the first run in the oven, our yummy biscotti gets sliced, diced, and lined up for more baking. Not too long, though, don't want them to by dry and nasty.

Just a twice-baked cookie that you form into a log, cook, let cool, slice up, and cook again.

Very, very easy. Very, very good!

Test Results

Primary Test Group: Really good! How do I say the name again?

More test groups tomorrow ... I have a meeting at which I'll see all three test group leaders, my new cookie client, and someone who might buy these for his new cafe.

Potential Improvements

Not sure how I'd improve the final product. But, I might chill the dough a bit before making logs to make it easier to work with.

Potential Variations

I'm thinking about making a batch and dipping half in bittersweet chocolate. Decadent, life-shortening, worth it.


Either all of the biscotti I've had in the past at trattorias and torrefaziones have been garbage. Or, I made these wrong.

They're the best I've ever had. Not even close.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Snickerdoodles ... Quelle coïncidence!

Well, last night I had a bit of a disaster in the kitchen. First, my French onion soup went wrong ... just bad, bad. As in "it's now pig food" bad. There was nothing burnt, nothing left out, no wrong ingredients, just somewhere along the way I did something wrong. Very wrong.

Then, my Snickerdoodles didn't come out right. I've made at least a thousand of them in my life, possibly more. I figure that's quite a few considering I'm not a professional (although, I might be here soon!). I've never had problems with Snickerdoodles before. A couple things went wrong.

Not to mention, last night my oven was haunted. It just won't heat past 300F, maybe 325F. I dreaded calling the repair man today. So, just out of curiosity, I tried setting the oven to "blast furnace" and it heated up nicely to 460F. Just like it always did.

Gott im Himmel! A batch of Snickerdoodles ruined due to a miserable oven. Then, I noticed something horrible. Something unimaginable. I'd left out the baking soda. In fact, I'd left it off the ingredient list in my first Snickerdoodle post (fixed now). I walked away from the cookies, which the Primary Test Team devoured anyway, and pretended they never happened. They don't exist to me.

I'm posting now, but after everyone else has posted about Snickerdoodles. I feel like a copycat.

Fortunately, a few folks have posted today ... including Katy at Sugarlaws. She suggested melting some of the butter. I'm going to try that.

And, regarding feeling bad about being a copycat ... oh well ... I'm taking a few over to a potential client for a taste. Can't be too sad about that!

  • 84 grams (3/4 cup) butter
  • 180 grams (1-1/2 cups) sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 385 grams (2-3/4) cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons Cream of Tartar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 28 grams (1/4 cup) melted butter
  • 30 grams (1/4 cup) white sugar
  • 4 teaspoons ground cinnamon

I preheated my oven to 400F (200C). Nice and hot so the little guys will flatten nicely.

As usual, I creamed butter and sugars together brutally. I really notice a difference in the cookies when the cream step is taken seriously. Then, I added the eggs and vanilla ... mixing them in well.

While the eggs and vanilla were finding their new home, I put the dry ingredients into a separate bowl and whisked them together. Making sure to evenly distribute the
Whisk dry ingredients together in separate bowl. Incorporate completely, but not too much.

I added melted butter and stirred slowly to mix. Oh, this time the dough had the right consistency. It wasn't firm and hard. It is gooey and really needs a couple of hours in the chiller .. which is where it went.

8-10 minutes (most were at 8) in the oven at 400F (200C) and they came out delicious! Don't cook too long or you'll burn them. Don't cook too short or they'll fall. If they fall, they're still delicious, just not as visually appealing.

Let them sit on the sheet for about a minute before transferring them to wire racks for complete cooling.


30 cookies (using a 1-1/2 ounce ice cream scoop)

Test Results

Primary Test Group: Marasa! More daddy!

Random Test Group: Wow! These are amazing.

Potential Improvements

Katy at Sugarlaws put cinnamon in her cookies, too. I might try that. Boost the cinnamon flavor a bit.


Cookies are great. Plain and simple ...

Monday, October 13, 2008

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies ... Oatmeal Showdown!

The oats that I like to use here are the imported Quaker Oats. They are P111 per 510g package. This turns out to be about P1.58 per cookie. So, I wondered a bit about using them. Kind of expensive.

So, when I saw some oats imported from Australia here at just over half that price, I took interest.

I guess the overall question is: why am I using imported oats? Well, I wrote about it here. It's easy to see the difference in quality.

The Australian oats weren't quite as nice as the American oats. But, at a mere P60 per 500g package, I was willing to try them out.

So, we had a showdown! In the green, weighing in at 500g, oats from the Land of Oz! And, in the red, weighing slightly more at 510, old-fashioned Quaker export-only oats from the United States!

  • 450 grams (4 cups) butter, softened
  • 840 grams (4 cups) brown sugar
  • 380 grams (2 cups) white sugar
  • 8 eggs
  • 2 tablespoon vanilla
  • 840 grams (6 cups) all-purpose flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoon salt
  • 510 grams (about 6 cups) American Quaker oats
  • 200 grams (2 cups) raisins
  • 500 grams (about 6 cups) Australian oats

I turned on my currently uncooperative oven (last night, it wouldn't go above 325F, now it will ... whoever heard of a fickle oven?) to 350F (175C).

Using Big Iron, I creamed the butter and sugars together. As usual, I creamed them well. Big Iron's #3 setting moves the mixer blade faster than the eye can focus. I know what you're thinking ... yeah, it is pretty cool!

Then, I mixed the vanilla and eggs in well.

While the eggs were mixing, in a separate bowl, I whisked together all the dry ingredients. This works so well. No more concentrated lumps of baking soda/powder on which to gag. I mixed in the dry ingredients and the raisins. Just enough to incorporate.

Now that I had the base mixture, I used my trusty kitchen scale to split the batch in two. In one half, I mixed in the American Quaker oats along with a half teaspoon of some red food coloring powder. In the other half, I mixed in the Australian oats with some green food coloring powder.

With each, I used my standard ice cream scoop, put 20 to a half-sized baking sheet ... and baked for 10-12 minutes at 350F (175C). About 6 minutes into each batch, I would swap (left-to-right) and rotate (front-to-back) the baking sheets to ensure even cooking.

Let cool completely on a rack ... and let the taste test begin!

Yield: 140 cookies.

Test Results

I tested based both on the looks of the cookies and on the taste. I setup nice plates that had bite-sized pieces to eat plus whole cookies to view.

From all test groups, the overwhelming favorite was "red" ... the imported from America Quaker Oats.


The smaller-sized Aussie flakes didn't hold the cookies together as well. The American cookies were taller and had better texture (to me).

Be willing to pay for good ingredients. They are worth the money.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Pizza Quest - Italian Sausage

As my thousands of regular readers know, I'm working towards making some great pizza here. I've got a good crust, the cheese is good, and the sauce is good. Now, I'm onto the toppings.

I want Italian sausage and Canadian bacon. But, for Canadian bacon I need a whole pork loin and I haven't found one. I need to hit up a butcher when they're first cutting. Everyone here just sells tenderloin.

So, I went for the other half of my Favorite Pizza Toppings Ever ... Italian sausage. I remembered watching my favorite food scientist, Alton Brown, making some. There was no need in my mind to look any further.

His recipe called for chopped parsley. That sounded a little wimpy for my taste. So, I swapped in some oregano instead. I started with a small amount (1/2 teaspoon) to replace the parsley (1 tablespoon). Next time, I'll more it up more.

  • 1 kilogram ground pork
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons fennel seed
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

I toasted the fennel seeds in a frying pan until they got a little browned. The smell was amazing! Just keep them moving to avoid burning them.

Then, I tossed the fennel seed, salt, oregano, and black pepper into a small bowl and whisked them together to combine properly.

Finally, I poured the spice mixture onto the ground pork and mixed it all together by hand. Try to do this in a cool place. You can also refrigerate the bowl to help keep things cold. You don't want the fat in the pork to melt.

Should store for a few days in the fridge. I put mine in the freezer as I have some pepperoni curing that I want to use on pizza at the same time.

Test Results

Primary Test Group: Delicious! Marasa! Masarap!

Potential Improvements

Possibly a little more fennel seed or oregano. Not sure. Will have to try it.

Potential Variations

A spicy version!


Fantastic. And, can be even better.