Friday, September 23, 2005

First Dinner and Chocolate Mousse

Feel like a grown-up today. My flatmate, Charry, had two guests tonight and I made dinner for the four of us. My first three-course dinner! We started off with Caesar's salad (recipe c/o Nigella Lawson), cooked the roast chicken again but got the skin browner and crispier this time and finally, chocolate mousse.

This is the third time I've made chocolate mousse based on Jamie Oliver's recipe. Tried it with milk chocolate, dark chocolate and this time a mixture of white chocolate and milk chocolate. The best so far has been the one with dark chocolate but Charry thinks it's this white chocolate one.

Anyway, here's how I made it:

Chocolate Mousse
(Adapted from Jamie Oliver ‘s Cheeky Chocolate Mousse in
‘Happy Days with the Naked Chef’)

10 small glasses, cooled in the fridge
200 g cooking chocolate (70% cocoa solids is best but use whatever you can get)
70 g butter
300 ml double cream
2 large eggs
2 tbsps honey

Divide the chocolate into blocks. Then place the chocolate together with the butter in a microwave safe bowl and microwave on medium for about one minute. Mix the chocolate and butter until smooth.

Place the cream in a mixing bowl and whisk until it is fluffy and doubled in size. Test by holding up the whisk and see if it has formed soft peaks (it’s soft when the cream still falls over ).

Crack the eggs in a bigger bowl. Add honey to the eggs and whisk a little. Then put in the cream and the melted chocolate. Then mix together by gently doing a folding action so that you won’t lose the air in the cream.

Get the glasses out and put the mixture in. I need ten glasses so that there will only be a little of it in each glass. My flatmate can’t finish more than that. But feel free to use only six glasses as Jamie Oliver did. Then put the glasses into the fridge and let it set at least one hour before eating.

For garnishing, u can save some of the cream and chocolate. Simply place a dollop of cream on top and then grate some chocolate on top of the cream.

Last Days

My last working day for the Department of Justice was great. After only 3 months and change, I felt that I had bonded with the team. They were nice and smart and I enjoyed the friendly chatter. Two newbies, Stef and Kyri, even became my walking buddies every Tuesday. And Susan, my supervisor, was wonderful and she agreed to become my referee when I apply for jobs.

We had lunch at the Shark Finn Inn and during the afternoon, they bought some bottles of champagne which we tasted just before 5 pm. Grabe, it was great. Such a contrast to when I left my last workplace. No one was really talking to me and people felt that I had betrayed the "family." Here's a pic of the loot I got. I'll always remember my stay there and I look forward to hearing about the final report I worked towards. And even this week, got two phone calls from the people there so they are serious about keeping in touch.

Was finally able to get my new passport last Thursday with my new surname. Haha! I basically have all the documents that are needed to on my part to apply for Gryphon's visa.

What else? Had an interview with a large financial services company this week. They said that they would call this week if I'm successful but no call.... so basically, it's back to the drawing board.

P.S. The Cheap Eats book given by Susan is a list of good but not-so-expensive restaurants in Melbourne and Victoria. She and I talked a lot about restaurants, she gave several recommendations and she loves Asian food.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Chicken Paella

My family's favorite restaurant is Trellis near the back of Quezon City Hall in the Philippines. And everytime we go there, we always, always order paella and sisig. I've been borrowing cook books from the library and when I saw a recipe for chicken paella, I just had to try it (and was raring to use the cute casserole pot that Erwin and Joan gave me for my birthday) . I cooked this last Saturday for our Bible study group and they loved it. It's kinda like arroz valenciana or a Spanish version of risotto. This paella did not taste like the one from Trellis but it reminded me enough of that original dish to transport me to all those happy shared occassions.

Chicken Paella
(Adapted from Good Food Fast by Jenni Fleetwood)

8 chicken legs (can also use wings or thighs)
4 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp ground turmeric (called ‘dilaw’ in the Philippines)
1-2 chorizo sausages
1 cup long grain rice (jasmine or basmati)
2 ½ cups chicken stock
1 red capsicum (bell pepper), seeded and sliced
1 cup frozen or fresh peas
salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a 30cm pan or a large casserole and brown the chicken pieces. Add the onion and garlic and stir in the turmeric. Cook for 2 minutes over medium heat.

Slice the chorizo and add to the pan. Then put in the rice and stock. Bring to the boil and season to taste with the salt and pepper. I put in some Vegeta (vegetable powder stock) as well. Lower the heat, cover and cook for 10 minutes.

Put in the sliced red pepper and peas. Stir frequently for a further 10-15 minutes or until the rice has absorbed the stock and the chicken is already thoroughly cooked.

Variations: the paella in Trellis also has shrimp and shellfish, the original recipe also called for tomatoes

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Lotsaherbs Roast Chicken

This apron was given to me by my flatmate and she trusts at least one of the dishes I've cooked - roast chicken! She said that it's the best she's tasted so far. And believe me, she's finicky!

I am in turn thanking Jamie Oliver because I got the recipe from his book The Naked Chef. Just added an onion and made the chicken bigger because the small one was gobbled up too soon. Plus he and Nigella Lawson are my mentors in the kitchen as they show that cooking is to be enjoyed and doesn't have to be complicated. You don't need to have all the gadgets or even all the ingredients. One can go by instinct and taste.

Anyway, will be putting in some recipes I've discovered and continue to discover in this blog as I move forward on my culinary journey. I definitely love cooking now and I'm so looking forward to whipping up these dishes for my dear husband. Cooking is helping me to bridge the distance between us as I feel near to him when I cook dishes I know he'll love.

Lotsaherbs Roast Chicken
(Adapted from Jamie Oliver’s My Perfect Roast Chicken)

1 medium-sized whole chicken
salt and pepper
olive oil
3 handfuls of fresh or dried herbs (basil, parsley and marjoram), chopped
1 lemon, quartered
1 onion, quartered
4 bay or laurel leaves (fresh or dried)
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees Celsius. Wash the chicken inside and out and dry as much as possible. Rub the cavity with salt. Pull back the skin at the tips of the chicken breasts and pull up gently (make sure it doesn’t rip). Then gently separate the skin from the rest of the breast meat. Sprinkle in some salt and push in the chopped herbs followed by some olive oil. As I only had fresh parsley, I added some dry herbs. It also works.

In the cavity of the chicken, put in your lemon, onion, bay leaves and rosemary. Lastly, rub some more oil in the chicken skin and season with salt and pepper. This will ensure that the skin is nice and crispy. Lastly, Jamie Oliver slashes each leg three times near the bones and puts in leftover herbs there (didn't really do this part).

Put in the chicken in the tray and cook for about an hour or when the chicken looks golden already. One rule is that you need 45 minutes per kilo of chicken. You can put in some potatoes too into the roasting tray so it cooks together with the chicken. It will smell heavenly.

Variation of Gryphon Hall

Well, that's how my wife did it. I knew about the existence of my Ærynn's highly successful recipe (thanks to The Naked Chef) for some time now. So, when my mom and I were able to get our hands on a particularly succulent specimen of chicken, I immediately sent an SMS to my wife to get the recipe. (What I should have known is that Ærynn already published the recipe over here; if I had known, I wouldn't have called her during office hours.)

At any rate, she gave me a truncated version of what you see up there. However, I did not have an oven—what I had was a Turbo Broiler (you know, those contraptions that cook by trapping and heating air around animal carcasses or vegetables for a period of time), and she wasn't able to tell me about the breast augmentation operation. I didn't have lemons (what does one do when life doesn't give you lemons?), I didn't have basil, marjoram, parsely, sage, rosemary, or thyme (I didn't go to Scarborough Fair or anything to get 'em), and I didn't have olive oil.

But the principle of The Naked Chef is to make food with the lowest possible fuss, so I had to find other ingredients to make do. Well, I had none of the herbs mentioned above, but I had pandan leaves and oregano. Pandan has traditionally been used as part of the stuffing of chicken in the Philippines, so I guess I can't go wrong there. Hmmmmm... I need more flavor... so I crushed and chopped up some garlic, onions and ginger root to go in with it, sprinkled with powdered oregano. Well, I didn't stuff it to the full as much as I wanted it to (there was about 75% of airspace left over), but I didn't have enough ingredients. I used ordinary cooking oil instead of olive oil; not to worry, I used some of that Omega 9 stuff that's supposedly healthy.

Okay, so I rubbed salt and pepper on the skin, yadda yadda yadda... then, on a whim, I peeled an onion, made some cuts all around it, then stuffed it up the dead chicken's a**... actually, more like plugged it up with the purple onion. This would later result into something serendipitious.

I carefully put the chicken inside the turbo broiler and, instead of putting water at the bottom (as one is told one must always do otherwise you end up with dry, bland meat), I put instead, on another whim, a peeled onion and a tomato to provide the humidity inside.

So, I put on the lid, then left it...

... about 15-20 minutes later I came back to turn the chicken over (the manufacturer said that in a turbo broiler, since the air is doing the cooking, one doesn't need to turn over food; but I've found that that isn't entirely accurate) and, lo and behold! Because of the onion stuck up the chicken's a** the little air that was left inside expanded and made the chicken not only larger to behold, thereby pulling taut the skin (making it crispier) and, as an unforseen but welcome side-effect, boiling the herb soup I put inside the chicken, heat-marinading it from the inside, infusing the entire torso and fleshy parts with the flavor. It's like a scene out of Cooking Master Boy (pictured on the left) or the Iron Chef (pictured on the right)!

Now, hitherto whenever Mom would turbo broil a chicken, we usually ended up with a very "flavorful" skin (sometimes, too flavorful) that was not crispy and chicken flesh that was dried out and bland (unless it was marinated overnight, but it would still be dry). Ha-ha! Not so with this variation of chicken! Not even marinated, yet the flavor in the torso was noticeable! And more noticeable because it was juicy. The skin was crispy and flavorful, and steam would rise as the skin is broken and the chicken carved up.

Of course, the drum sticks and the wings were not infused with the special herbal soup, not being in any proximity to the cavity. But at least those choice cuts had plenty of skin and, thanks to the humidity regulation of the tomato and the onion inside the broiler with the chicken, was juicy also.

Anyway, I'm sure that now I have the complete version, I think I can come up with an even better variation.

Back to you, Ærynn!

Spring is In!

Since it is now September, it is officially spring in Australia. One of the early signs of spring are the beautiful pink chrysanthemums that line the streets.

Hope is also 'spring-ing' in my heart. Will be getting my tax refund soon and it's just enough to cover my husband's visa application fee. Woohoo! And I'll be getting my new Philippine passport soon as I had to have it renewed, with a few complications along the way. Either way, things are turning up and I think Gryphon will finally be able to lodge his application in October. There are still some requirements we need to take care of but it's shaping up!

Despite regularly forgetting to water them, my herbs are also looking good. I think they look a bit bigger now which is great. Looking forward to using some of the thyme soon to cook a chicken dish.

My stay in the office at Spring Street will be coming to an end this week. I've sent an application to one company but will need to send some more. In the meantime, I'll hopefully be getting more work from my employment agency. So I'm also a bit anxious about the future. But I know that God is helping me to work through the circumstances. After all, He has been providing for the two years I've been in the Land of Oz (landed here in September 14, 2003).

So welcome spring and hello lower electricity bill (we won't need the heater soon)!

Coffee Alamid-Rarest Coffee in the World

Coffee Alamid-Rarest Coffee in the World
Originally uploaded by Gryphon Hall
found in a coffee shop in West Fairview, Quezon City
My Mother-in-law, her two sisters and I were talking about our experiences with coffee and tea. During the course of our discussions, Ærynn's Mom tried very hard to remember one particular variety of coffee, which she said was supposed to be the most expensive coffee variety in the world.

Well, of course, I was intrigued and (I must admit) a bit doubtful. I knew certain types of coffee varieties can be expensive; but I didn't know that there would be one special variety of coffee that would be much more expensive than the ones I purchase at Starbucks. Well, she said, that's because the beans are first eaten by some type of wild cat, then it passes out whole in their droppings, farmers gather them, and roast them. That's what makes them the most expensive coffee in the world. In fact, she challenged me to find out about it and I promised to do so.

Well, the most logical first place to look should have been the internet, right? Just Google it and I should have found out quickly. As it is, I actually found out about the most expensive coffee from a Philippine coffee shop; I also found out why they were so darn expensive—the Civet cat that eats the coffee cherries are endangered. For a small jar of coffee just slightly larger than an ink well, one has to fork out PhP300, that's roughly US$6.00 for what is essentially just one or two mugs of coffee. Still, it seems that even that is cheap compared to what the British have to pay for when they import the Indonesian version of Coffee Alamid, which is called Kopi Luwak. One unfortunate Britisher couldn't see the difference between normal coffee and Kopi Luwak, as he describes in his blog.

I wanted to purchase some... but as I had quit my inhuman call centre job just recently, this particular luxury is one that I find I cannot afford all of a sudden. Well... that is another story. I'm actually playing around with the idea of applying for a coffee barista job in the local coffee shop; it's lower pay, but I don't have to have recurring nightmares about Remedy, Help Desk and Avaya conking out.

Oh, and finally, I've begun to lose weight again...

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Anti-illiteracy in the Philippines

I have been a teacher for less than three years, intermittently. In spite of all the feel good movies out there about how wonderful the teaching profession is, I haven't found it to be so. Take note, I said the teaching profession isn't wonderful, not teaching itself.

One of the reasons why I found that I cannot stay in the Philippine teaching profession is the "hakot" mentality in the country's literacy programs. Simply put, they don't bother so much about quality in education as long as as many children as possible are in school. Again take note, the programs are merely trying to get children into school, but that's about it. And about as many children as they can cram into classrooms and assigning them to a ridiculous teacher-to-student ratio, frequently 50 students to a teacher. Well... not quite. Actually, it's more like a hundred or more to a teacher, since we used to be given a ridiculous number of "preparations," that is, we don't just prepare for just one subject with a class of 50 students.

I have, of course, naively discussed this with my principal and my coordinator before—we need more teachers. The answer is, well, ridiculously simple: not enough funds. Of course! Why didn't I think of that? The traditional models of supply and demand is overturned. We have here a clear case of demand and with little supply (yes, believe it or not; inspite of all the Educ graduates the colleges and universities churn out each year), one would think that teachers would be paid more. The fact is that since teachers traditionally have low salaries, even thinking that teachers should be paid a lot is totally alien.

Well, some bloke from down under thinks that a profit can be made for teaching-for-profit, and he isn't talking about just money.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Believe it or not, I hate being right.jpg

Moblog: One of the most annoying things for me is being right. Well, of course one wants to be right; what irritates me is being right after being told repeatedly that I was actually wrong. It may be over some bit of trivia (where the annoyance is only slight), then there are those occasional times where the disagreement is about something like policy or professional know-how (where the annoyance is not only great but stressful).

However, there are those rare times that, even after I've been proven right, it is insisted that I'm still wrong, like this current situation I find myself in with an ignorant Hun.

Does God ever feel this way? He's been proven right so very often yet humans by and large still insist that their wisdom and justice is greater and better than God's-this annoys me. But what annoys me more are Christians who pervert how God really is like, making Him seem harsher and more unjust than He actually is, or worse, as one who sells prosperity and health.