1st Mac ‘n Cheese Attempt

“Its diamonds in your pockets one week, macaroni and cheese the next.” -Jolene Blalock

I have a love and hate relationship with mac ‘n cheese. I have never tasted mac ‘n cheese that I absolutely loved. It was always either too bland or too cheesy for my liking.

Recognizing my lack of culinary skills, I decided I will have to learn how to cook food. And by cook, I mean excluding the usual stuff that I bake like cookies and muffins. I have put off learning cooking for a long time because I hate having to peel, chop, dice, fillet, grind or mince. You know, all those “preparation” steps that take forever.

A friend recommended that I start with the simple stuff. He shared me a recipe of mac ‘n cheese he found online and told me to try it out. Then, I could venture into trying cheeses other than just cheddar.

So, what did I get?

img_7377400 grams of elbow macaroni | 200 grams of cheddar cheese | 26 grams of mozzarella | 2 cups of milk | 1/4 cup of unsalted butter | 1/4 cup of flour | 1/2 tsp salt | a dash of ground black pepper

I started by cooking the macaroni. Then, I proceeded making the roux by melting the butter and then adding the flour. Once the paste was thick, I added the milk a little at a time. I seasoned it with salt and pepper. I slowly stirred the milk to keep it from burning. Once simmering, I added the cheeses a little bit at a time, ensuring that they have melted well. Finally, I added the macaroni to the pan and made sure to coat everything evenly.

For one, it was too pale. It looked so sad so I transferred it to a baking dish. I melted some 2 tbsps of butter and added them to around 6 tbsps of panko breadcrumbs. I added some Parmesan cheese for added taste. Then, I sprinkled the breadcrumbs and cheese mixture on top of the mac ‘n cheese and baked it for 15 minutes until the top browned a little bit.

img_7363Despite the amount of cheese I put in, it was still too bland. Yet the recipe had rave reviews from people who tried making it for their friends and family.

I decided to just make it into a cheesy bacon and mushroom the following day. We added a can of Campbell’s cream of mushroom and a small can of milk (the macaroni has soaked up the cheese sauce) and bits of crispy bacon.

How did it go? I could distinguish the saltiness from the cream of mushroom but damn, it tasted too cheesy this time! Where did all the blandness from yesterday go?!

I guess I have not put an end to my love and hate relationship with mac ‘n cheese. Wonder when I’ll get to taste one that’s just right.

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Just Baked: Hokkaido Milk Bread

“All sorrows are less with bread.” -Miguel de Cervantes Saaved

I have been itching to make bread again after the success of my attempt at making wheat bread using the turbo, no-knead method. As good as that bread was, it was the type that you finish within the day you baked it. With only water as the hydrating ingredient, the bread could turn out to be tough the following day.

While trying to feel sleepy one night, I searched for bread recipes that called for milk and eggs because my favorite loaf of bread from Goldilocks, a famous chain of bakeshops in the Philippines, was made with those two ingredients included. I figured, those two will give me soft, fluffy, and yummy bread that will not be hard or tough the following day.

From my search, I found the Fluffy Asian Milk Bread (Hokkaido Milk Bread) recipe from Pai’s Kitchen. Her ingredients were pretty straightforward and she had a video to show how it’s done as well. Remembering I had dough hook attachments to my electric hand mixer, I figured that I can do it too.

Her recipe starts out with making the tangzhong, also called as roux. It could be made with flour and water or milk. I like that Pai’s recipe used milk since I think that will help enhance the flavor.

The tanzhong’s purpose is to be able to put in much liquid to the dough without making it too sticky. Also, the roux will help lock in moisture that will allow for a bread that remains soft and fluffy even after a day or two.

I added 20 grams of flour to 120 ml full-cream milk/whole milk.

I mixed the flour in the milk until dissolved. Then, I went to my stove to heat the mixture up, mixing continuously trying to prevent the milk from burning. For some reason, the mixture thickened in around ten seconds and I was close to burning it. My induction stove can be difficult to work with at times. Oh well.

But, my tangzhong still turned out okay. I dumped it in my 120 ml evaporated milk to cool down faster.

Meanwhile, I prepared my 320 grams flour (I just used all-purpose) and 2 tsps of instant yeast.

I added one egg to the milk and tangzhong mixture after it has cooled to prevent the egg from scrambling. Then, I poured it into my dry ingredients.

I used my hand mixer with dough hook attachments to mix the dough until there’s not much dry flour left. I covered it with a tea towel, as instructed by Pai, for 20 minutes. This is the autolyse method, aimed to help making a dough that’s easier to work with.

After 20 minutes, I proceeded with kneading the dough using my electric hand mixer, adding my 2 tbsps of sugar and 1/2 tsp of salt gradually while kneading.

I had to stop every now and then not only to rest my mixer’s engine, but also to remove the dough from the dough hooks to ensure even kneading. I had to this a couple of times until I got a dough that clings to the hooks and do not separate anymore. Then, I added 56 grams of butter a little at a time until the dough absorbed it all.

However, my dough remains sticky no matter what I did and how long I kneaded with the machine. I also could not achieve the smooth baby bum texture. I decided to get a little bit of flour and kneaded the dough with my hands inside the bowl. That helped a bit but it still wasn’t the baby bum look that I was aiming for.

Anyway, I got tired of the kneading and the windowpane and poke tests were pretty much showing it’s okay. I decided to call it a day and just get on with the rest of the process. I really need that Kitchen Aid stand mixer.

I placed the dough in a clean bowl that was oiled to prevent sticking. I made sure to coat the entire exterior of the dough before I covered the dough with cling wrap. I covered it additionally with a tea towel and placed it on a warm area to proof.

At around 20 minutes, the dough has already rise . Look!

I was excited for the rest of the steps. After 40 more minutes, it was just huge!

I poked the dough, degassed it, and kneaded it a bit. I then started making 60 gram chunks until I arrived 12 buns with exactly the same weight.

The buns on the first tray had already started the second proofing. Hence, it looks bigger than those on the left. I covered the trays with cling wrap and then with a tea towel to proof for 45 minutes more.

Ah!!! Soooo big!

I popped them in my oven that was preheated at 190°C. But, as soon as they got in, I lowered the temperature to 175°C.

I baked them for 15 minutes and they went out golden brown with a hollow sound when tapped. They were so cute!!!

I just to try one as soon as it cooled a little bit so I would not burn my hands. Look!

It was fluffy, it was soft, and it was yummy! It went really well with butter. The best part? It was still as soft the following day and even the day after!

I’m excited with what else I can do with this base dough. Maybe a custard bun? Or maybe I can fill it with meat? Ooooh! I am so excited!

I shall endeavor to achieve that baby bum texture the next time I try it. What an arm and hand workout that will be!

Getting Fat at Fatburger

“We all need to make time for a burger once in a while.” -Erica Durance

The burgers in Fatburger overwhelmed me a bit so they shall have to wait for me to be brave enough to try their burgers.

My taste for burgers is quite simple: soft and warm bun, juicy patty, yummy dressing, and slightly melted slice of cheese. I enjoy bacon slices and a bit of mushrooms too. That being said, you can say that I don’t like having a lot of ingredients in my burger. I remove the lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and onions from my burger that my sister shakes her head at me and ends up putting the stuff I took out in her burger instead.

So when I had dinner at Fatburger in Glorietta with my very awesome friend, Danielle, I didn’t go for the burgers like she did. Instead, I went for their chicken caesar wrap. I also ordered their fat fries and onion rings to share with Danielle.

Chicken caesar wrap – ₱225

Right off the bat, you can see that the serving is really huge. I am so glad that they sliced the wrap in half because I was not able to touch the second half of it. It would have been a waste if it was served as a whole and I was not able to finish. I would not be able to give the other half away.

It also had more lettuce than I was expecting. Maybe I was expecting it to be closer to KFC’s California Maki Twister Wrap. Then again, it was a salad turned into a wrap for convenience so I should have managed my expectations better.

I’m glad it did not have onions or anything else other than lettuce, bacon, chicken, caesar dressing and cheese because I also dislike salads that have a lot going on (with tomatoes or grapes or olives, etc.).

The amount of dressing was just right so it did not make the tortilla wrap soggy. But, if it had a little less cheese, I would have loved it even more. It was filling, it was yummy and it was not messy to handle. But yeah, I would request just a tad bit less cheese next time.

Homemade onion rings – ₱95

I generally hate onions. I take them out of my food or always ask to have them left out when I eat out.

However, my awesome and beloved Uncle Greg likes onion rings. When I stayed with him and Aunt Lory for two weeks a few years back, he made me try onion rings made by their help, Pearl. They used white onions instead of the red kind. For some miraculous reason, I loved it. Or, maybe it was me trying to impress my uncle who I admire so much. I am not quite sure anymore.

Fatburger’s onion rings was yummy too! It was crispy and the onion inside the coating was not mushy or anything that could turn me off. Also, the coating was not like in other onion rings I have seen where it separates from the actual onion, leaving you with fried batter and onions instead.

Maybe I did start loving onion rings after all. Hahaha…

Fat fries – ₱95

When I want to eat comfort food, I turn to potatoes to give me the comfort I seek. I love potatoes from fries to shepherd’s pie’s mashed potato part. I also prefer potato salad over macaroni salad so my mom makes two kinds of salads when we have a celebration at home like birthdays or Christmas.

Despite the large cuts, the fries were well done. They were not heavily seasoned which makes them perfect for dipping. I love mayo for fries more than ketchup or gravy.

Danielle and I did not order any fancy drink, opting for just iced tea and root beer. But, I was able to visit Fatburger before with my officemate, Cess, and we ordered their chocolate milkshake.

She had a discount voucher/coupon from Booky, so we got to buy two milkshakea for the price of 1.

Again, serving was very big! The best part was though was that it was very, very delicious! It was not too chocolatey the way some chocolate milkshakes are so my taste buds were not overwhelmed. The balance between the chocolate and the milk and the ice cream was perfect.

One problem I had though was my habit of going through drinks very quickly. Before I knew it, I drank the whole thing already! Same reason why I drink over 16 glasses of water a day. Hahaha…

Still, good food is lonely to have without anyone to share it with. The best part of my experience in Fatburger was the bonding time I had with Danielle and with Cess. Conversations are always good to have over meals, I think.

Fatburger in Glorietta mall offers yummy food and the customer service is awesome as well! Please do check out this place when you’re in Makati.

Tarot 101 Workshop by Jammi

“Divination is the quest to understand more about the past, present, and future. In other words, Tarot readings are an attempt to understand ourselves better and discover how we might live better in the future.” ― Theresa Cheung, Teen Tarot: What the Cards Reveal About You and Your Future

You might remember that I previously went to a journaling and tarot workshop two months ago. I greatly enjoyed that workshop and have since then tried to learn more about tarot reading.

However, my busy schedule does not permit me so much time to pore over books, trying to memorize the meaning of the cards and the meanings of their different combinations. My tarot deck took a backseat for some time and I was completely focused on my work and my blog.

CaptureOne night, while unable to sleep, I started looking for workshops to look forward too again. In my search, I came upon an event posted by Persephone – A Seasonal Kitchen (a restaurant) on Facebook. It was a tarot workshop on May 13. It was to be headed by Jammi Nedjadi, a Reiki-Shaman and full time Lightworker who has been reading tarot and oracle cards for roughly fifteen years by now.

I immediately signed up for a slot, praying that it was not fully booked yet. I sent the message on Friday and the event was already that coming Sunday. Luckily, the universe granted my hopes to be able to attend this workshop.

img_7190The restaurant was just 15 minutes away from my house so I did not have to hurry up so much to leave. It was a cozy place that offered what looked like very yummy food to me. But, I just had my brunch two hour ago and was not really hungry. So, I just ordered my favorite leafy chips: fried kangkong (water spinach). Oh my gosh! It’s my new favorite already, bumping off the same dish from Kanin Club! I love it so much!

Soon after I got there, the event began. We started my a mini reading from one of Jammi’s friends, Jennifer. Basically, the cards told me that in order to be successful in the endeavor I had in mind, something from the past has to end. I think I know exactly what that is!

After the mini reading, we were given decks to use throughout the workshop. They were not all tarot decks. Some were game cards, I think. My partner, Aya, and I were given Dixit cards.

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The practice was to use our intuition in reading. Jammi mentioned how intuitive reading helped her friends learn tarot reading much more quickly than by memorizing the meaning of each cards. She gave us tips on where to buy cards, how to read reverse cards and how questions are appropriately phrased.

Aya and I took turns, eventually switching partners with Kia and Paula. We also had a fun time reading, Paula and I.

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The workshop did not teach us the meaning of each cards. Rather, we were taught to listen to our intuition and to the universe. It was quite amazing how, even by just using playing cards, we were able to make readings that had each other saying “woah!” and “spot on!” every now and then.

The event did not just teach me about tarot. It also allowed me to meet people who came from different backgrounds but were still awesome in their own rights. I learned a lot from the experiences they shared too, making me feel like I also grew in maturity that day.

I look forward to learning more about tarot and meeting more awesome people in the process! I also look forward to trying other dishes from Persephone – A Seasonal Kitchen because the menu looked very, very promising!

Missing Hong Kong

My sister is home!!!

I picked up my sister at the airport and I arrived just in time when the plane she was in landed. Talk about timing!

Anyway, while I was waiting for her, I started walking around. Then, I noticed this:

Tsim Sha Tsui. It’s got the same name as the Kowloon’s shopping and nightlife district. I started wishing I was in the airport to go to Hong Kong instead.

I miss traveling. That’s the thing I miss about my previous job as an internal bank auditor. I got to travel to so many places that I did not have to spend a single centavo for.

I shall make it a point to travel this year whether locally or internationally. So, I must save up!

Hearty Meal at El Corazon

“Perhaps it takes courage to raise children.” -John Steinbeck, East of Eden

It surely is tough being a mother. I have seen my mom in action over the years, making things happen when they have to. She’s resourceful and so smart about a lot of things which may be a product of how she grew up.

So, for mother’s day, we went out to dinner to the new mall nearby that we have not visited at all. I figured we should go out and eat somewhere we’ve not been before so we went to Uptown Bonifacio in BGC, Taguig. We also wanted to see the branch of All About Baking there so we were hitting two birds with one stone.

In our search for a place to dine in, we came across El Corazon, a Spanish-Filipino restaurant. Being partly Spanish, surely she would appreciate this place so I suggested we tried the food here. We did not have to wait long to be seated, luckily.

My mom isn’t one who is game when it comes to posing for photos though. The woman rarely smiles at them anyway. I wonder why because she looks so pretty when she smiles. But, we got convinced by the restaurant staff to pose for one. They said they were giving us a free copy as souvenir.

Anyway, the food selection looked very, very appetizing and scrumptious but we did not want to order so much that we could not finish so we decided on three dishes first.

Soria|Mushroom Salpicao – ₱225

It smelled wonderfully upon arriving on our table. You can see the mushrooms were sliced just right; not too big and not too thin that it would look too plentiful.

I love mushrooms! I love salpicao! So this should be great, right?

Except for the strong vinegar taste, everything else was great. The mushrooms were not over or undercooked. The oil was not overwhelming. Garlic? Just right too. But, yeah. The vinegar was too strong in this dish for my taste.

Campeador | Pork Binagoongan – ₱350

Binagoongan means it was cooked with bagoong, which is a Filipino condiment (a paste) made from fermented fish or krill.

I know it sounds unappetizing but wait until you try it! It goes great with green mangoes (the sour kind) and is used in a lot of dishes in the country. I personally love bagoong with sinigang, a sour soup/stew.

Going back to pork binagoongan, I was surprised that the pork was not covered in the bagoong already like how most restaurants serve this dish. Rather, there was an eggplant covered with lots of bagoong, with the pork sitting on top. I guess it helps the diners determine how much bagoong they wanted with the meat.

I loved this dish so much! The pork had a crunchy top and was not too chewy. The bagoong was absolutely yummy too! It wasn’t too fishy for my liking. I didn’t bother with the eggplant though. Mom and I do not eat that vegetable.

Paella Valenciana – ₱695

I had high expectations from this dish. It did not disappoint!

Filled with prawns, squid, mussels, fish fillet, chicken, pork, chorizo, vegetables and egg, this was an entire meal all on its own! The best part is that I did not have an allergic reaction to the seafood like I normally would. This means they used fresh, quality ingredients!

It was so good! The flavors blended so nicely that you could not determine whih meat was which unless you took a good look before putting it in your mouth. It was so flavorful in the right way that you did not need to cleanse your palate very often.

We had leftovers that we ate the following day at home. You know what, it tasted even better the day after! Maybe because the flavors had more time to meld and blend together and seep into the rice. Gosh, makes me want to go back for more.

The Spanish and Filipino in my mom was happy that night. Mom has a tendency to scrutinize and critique the food when we eat out but it looked like she was really satisfied. Okay, one piece of the pork binagoongan that she got was a little tough, she said. But, that was all the criticism I heard that night. Which means, I did a good job choosing the place!

Thank God we didn’t order more than three dishes because we still had leftovers! I want to go back so we can try their other dishes too. I will have to find out if they deliver via Food Panda. 😁

My relationship with my mom is not perfect. We had our share of misunderstandings in the past. But, my mom has been a constant figure in my life, and is always there when I need her. Who I am today is a product of how she raised me. And even if we do not see eye-to-eye every time, I know that she will always be there for me and my sister.

Keep it Klean

When I was in grade school, I carried the biggest water jug a kid could carry to school. It was a red, half gallon Coleman jug. I drank so much water as a kid that I am sure I exceeded the suggested 8 glasses of water a day.

To this date, I still drink lots of water but I do not carry a jug to work because that would just be awkward. But, I did used water bottles and have moved from plastic bottles to glass. But recently, friends have been telling me to get Klean Kanteen.

At first, I saw it as just another overpriced insulated water bottle. In my head, a bottle is just a bottle and any bottle will do.

Until I learned that this bottle could keep liquid hot or cold for more than 12 hours. I was curious so I went to search for reviews. Oh dear. All I read were good reviews.

After trying to justify in my head why it was okay to buy a PHP 1,850 (roughly USD 36) bottle, I gave in. I got a 20 oz Klean Kanteen insulated bottle that boasted keeping liquid hot for 20 hrs and cold for 50 hrs. I got a purple one because which was the only one of its color left when I shopped for it.

Was it worth it? Yes! Oh my gosh, yes! I haven’t tried 50 hours but at 12 hours, I have proven that ice put in has not melted yet. After about 15 to 18 hours, despite the ice having melted already, the water stays cold as if you just got it from the fridge. Amazing!

I do not mind anymore that it’s a little bit heavy. I found a pouch at home to put it in because I didn’t want to put it in my bag without any protection from possible scratches from my laptop charger or umbrella.

My purchase was really worth it. Some things are really worth the price tag.

Excited for: My Sister’s Visit to the Philippines!

I cannot count the times my sister and I made sacrifices for one another. I guess that’s sisterhood. You give and you take.

My sister has always been my rock. She was the stronger sister, the one I’ve looked up to since I was a kid. And while there were moments I felt like she was the favorite child, I knew that she was only doing the best she could in everything she did. She had the responsibility of setting the best example for me and that was not an easy task as well.

My sister is not the affectionate type. But, from time to time, she will become malambing (affectionate; touchy-feely) and hug me like I was a life-size stuffed toy. But more often than not, she expresses her lambing (affection) in other ways like buying me make-up or treating me to eat out or just getting me lots and lots of stuff. Yeah, she’s the type to shower people she loves with gifts.

She used to help me stand and walk. But a few years back, she had two knee surgeries that had her needing help to get around. The first surgery was worse. She could not walk at all for months. I quit my job and spent five months helping care for her. Suddenly, the roles were switched.

But, all of that paid off and seeing how she’s now based in Hong Kong and is always travelling makes me feel like it was not a sacrifice on my part. It was an investment. And that period showed me how much my sister tried to remain strong for me and mom during our most trying times. It made me understand her so much more.

I can’t wait to see her again!

Without A Trace, Well, Almost…

“You sometimes think you want to disappear, but all you really want is to be found.” -Kid Cudi

I dislike wearing heels to work. My pigeon-toed feet cannot bear it so I wear flats. In my previous workplace, it was usually fine. That was, until the new group head came.

The group head was strict about our attires and I have seen more than a few instances that she called someone’s attention for what they wore. Wearing heels for women is one of the things she looked at.

Even more unfortunately for me, her office was beside the workstation of my boss. And one fateful day, my boss asked me to go to his station. Midway, I stopped in my tracks because the group head just arrived and was talking to some people outside the cubicle of my boss. I hurried back to change into my heels that I kept in my pedestal cabinet. In my haste, as soon as I wore my heels, I rushed to go to my boss without fixing my flats under my workstation.

Joan, who happened to be my teammate and very close friend too, turned to my station, hoping to ask me something. But, all she saw was my phone on my desk and my shoes on the floor. She did not know about my changing into heels and going to our boss. Finding it funny, she took a snap of my workstation and sent it to our group chat.

It was like she’s looking for me with Mark laughing, saying that my shoes were the only trace I left behind.

I laughed when I saw the group chat after I got back. For the entire day, we pretended to our friends on fieldwork that I went missing. I did not answer calls and messages. I enjoyed “disappearing” for one day.

For so many years, I wanted for a day when I can disappear. To shut the noise of the world away so I can be at peace. To breathe. Then to scream out all the pain I have kept inside from all the bullying I experienced, the dysfunctional relationship with my dad, the sometimes-empty-sometimes-full-of-guilt feelings I had, and from years of feeling never enough. I wanted so badly to disappear.

And as incomplete and as far from my expectations my “disappearance” was, it felt good when I would hear from time to time that our friends were “checking up” on me, asking if I “returned” already. I would get messages from them on my phone telling me to be back already, maybe because they had some stuff to ask me. Regardless, they didn’t just shrug at our joke, not caring what was up or what was going on.

When I “returned,” I told them what happened and we laughed about it. It was a silly day but it meant a lot to me.

Truly, I have found friends I can be myself with. These are the friends who will bother to find out how I was doing or if I needed anything. I have seen these people in action when one of our friends was in great need. These are real, dependable people I have come to really love and I am so glad that I found them.

My Mendokoro Ramenba Experience

Ramen makes me think of all the good things life has to offer.

I love ramen so much be they from fast food Tokyo Tokyo or fancier places. I have tried Ramen Yushoken in Banilad, Cebu and had an awesome time eating shoyu ramen. I have also tried Ramen Kuroda in RCBC Plaza and remember being so happy with my order. I also truly loved the niku fuji soba from Nadai Fujisoba. More recently, I went out with friends to Ramen Nagi and had delicious Butao.

I love instant ramen too. I would usually buy instant ramen when I had to eat my breakfast while working because my previous job was just so loaded.

My most recent ramen experience was with my current office mates. It was a late night meal (around 11 PM) at Mendokoro Ramenba in Salcedo Village, Makati and to our surprise, the place still had a queue of people waiting to have their turn to eat!

The setup of the restau allows you to watch your food being prepared. You can see how the staff diligently prepare your orders, making sure they tasted really delicious!

The place smelled heavenly of quality ingredients they used. It smelled of comfort and love that can come from really good food.

That night, I had shoyu ramen.

The broth was really flavorful! Yet, it was not loaded with tallow from the meat that can sometimes coat your tongue (not a good experience). The flavor was not too strong that it will make you reach for a glass of water several times just to cleanse your palate.

The meat was cooked just right. It wasn’t tough but it was not too rare for my liking either. It had a flavor that did not come from the broth which made it more interesting to taste.

The noodles were neither tough nor soggy. It was perfect! The amount was just right to fill you up but not make your tummy feel like it’s about to burst.

Their ramen really raised the game for restaurants that offer ramen. Their recipe is just so amazingly delicious! It’s no wonder how people still line up at almost midnight just to eat here.

I will definitely be back! Also, I would like to explore other ramen places and see what places offer really delicious ramen.

By the way, I loved their gyoza too.

What is your favorite ramen place? What kind of ramen is your favorite?