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Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

May 6, 2015 by ChichaJo  
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My daughter has just told me that she does not like nuts in her cookies.

My head whips around, my eyes wide and disbelieving.  What??  For one horrible split second I imagine endless days and months and years stretched before me, a long lifetime without nuts in my baked goods.  I remember the melancholy of having to bake nut-free for my brother, who didn’t like them either.  I remember the bliss of getting married, moving out, and realizing I could now bake everything stuffed to the gills with nuts, as much as my nut-loving heart wanted.  My freezer is home to at least three different kinds of nuts at a time.  At least.

How could my own flesh and blood not like nuts in her chocolate chip cookies.  How??

And what is she talking about?  She actually eats nuts.  Walnuts specifically (my favorite kind as well).

But you eat nuts!”, I wail pathetically.  She gives me an exasperated look. Yes, but I eat nuts alone.  I eat chocolate alone.  Not together.

My eyes narrow.  What kind of nit-picking is this?  Is little diva this for real?  I don’t think my eyebrow could reach the heights that statement warranted.

And so the final word (for now at least): “Little C, mama likes nuts in her cookies.  We need the nuts to balance the sweetness of the chocolate and of the cookie itself.  We are making cookies with nuts.

And besides, these cookies here?  They are ultimately more awesome with nuts (walnuts specifically – my favorite).  Trust me, mama knows best.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

(Only slightly adapted from Averie Cooks) 
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups old-fashioned whole rolled oats
  • 3/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • A pinch of salt, optional and to taste
  • 1 heaping cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts

– In the bowl of a mixer with a paddle attachment combine the egg, butter, sugars, and vanilla and beat on medium-high speed until creamed and well combined, about 4 minutes.

– Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the oats, flour, baking soda, and salt and beat on low speed until just combined, about 1 minute or less.

– Scrape down the sides of the bowl again and then add the chocolate chips and the nuts.  Beat on low for about 30 seconds, just to incorporate everything evenly.  Do not over-mix.

– Using a tablespoon (Averie uses a 1/4 cup measure but I like my cookies smaller), scoop a heaping amount of dough into your hand and roll into a ball.  I like Averie’s tip of strategically placing a few chocolate chips on the top of the cookies — that way they look nice.

– Place the dough balls in a food safe container (in one layer, so use some kind of tray or plate), cover, and place in the fridge for at least 2 hours or up to 5 days (or alternately freeze for up to 4 months).  Do not bake unchilled dough as the cookies will spread too thin.

– When you are ready to bake, pre-heat oven to 350F.  Line a cookie sheet with baking spray, a Silpat, or (my personal favorite) baking parchment.  Place the cookie dough on the sheet at least 2 inches apart.  Bake for 11-12 minutes, or until the edges are set and the tops are just set.  They may look a little soft in the middle but that’s fine.  Cool the cookies on the cookie sheet for about 5-10 minutes and then transfer to a wire rack.

I love oatmeal and I love chocolate, so a joining of the two is definitely something that I’m going to try.  How happy I am that I did!  This cookie is everything that it promises to be: soft, chewy, with a nutty-hearty bite, and the lovely melting chocolate all throughout.  In the original recipe there is the option to add raisin or nuts.  I suppose you can guess what I added.  But in my defense, I think the walnuts are perfect here.  They are, as I insisted to my daughter, the perfect counterpoint to the sweet chocolate and the chewy cookie.

As the recipe states, do not over-bake the cookies, as they will firm up as they cool.  Averie cools these cookies completely on the pan but I like to keep them for about 5-10 minutes on the pan, and then transfer to a rack.  As you can keep this batter for up to 5 days in the fridge I like to make and shape these the day before so on the day I actually need the cookies I simply pop them in the oven and enjoy freshly baked (as we all know that is the optimum way to enjoy cookies).

Despite my daughter’s sudden random idiosyncrasy about not mixing nuts and chocolate (but they’re so good together I tell you!) these were enjoyed very much by both my own mother and my husband…and enjoyed a little bit too much by my gluttonous self. 

I have 6 cookie-dough balls of this safely tucked away in the freezer for “emergencies”.  Is there a more lofty feeling of smugness than that which you feel when you’ve got cookie dough in the freezer?  I have yet to find out.

If you are a mama who’s dealing with strange new food habits, this cookie is for you!  This is especially for you if you like nuts like me.  Actually, this is for all the mamas out there, whose everydays are filled with strange new things, weird unexplainable occurrences, and also wonderful heart-filling moments.  It’s a mystery.  It’s instinctual.  It’s falling in love everyday.  It’s falling asleep in the doctor’s waiting room. It’s messes and it’s miracles.  And sometimes, it’s drama about chocolate and nuts that you all sort out somehow, however perfectly imperfect the solution.  Wishing all of us a happy Mothers Day!

Garlic Lemon Butter Shrimp

April 26, 2015 by ChichaJo  
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Whew.  It’s been two absolutely hectic weeks and I feel like I’m coming out of a long and rather challenging gauntlet.  My boss was here from overseas (Yes, I have a boss! So when I say I am a worker bee I really do mean it!) and we had a series of intense meetings.  That’s not to say that all this lay heavy on my shoulders.  Intense yes, but rewarding and exciting nonetheless.  Onward troops (as I like to say)!

Whatever the case though…I am feeling a bit raggedy around the edges but glad to find a spot of time to click-clack away at my keyboard and share some thoughts and a recipe with you.

Before the all the meetings commenced, a couple of weeks ago, we went on a lovely holiday out of the city to a little town called Urbiztondo in San Juan, La Union.  San Juan is a surfer’s town, a seaside gem of a place with fierce waves, long sandy shores, and friendly people.  I had never thought of exploring La Union before…simply because, well, not to put too fine a point on it, I don’t surf.  And if you know me, you will know that the only kind of surfing I will ever be inclined to do is couch-surfing with a good book.  But then I saw this post from a blog-friend and I was smitten.  To get me on a surfboard would be an insurmountable task but to get me to a bougainvillea-swathed cottage by the sea?  That wouldn’t take any convincing at all.

If I had been smitten by a few photos, the reality of this place enchanted me.  That white cottage right by the sea, fuchsia blooms crawling crazily up its sides.  A deck where we could dry our wet and sand-speckled swimsuits.  The airy veranda where we would laze around on white canvas covered sofas and native wood recliners while the children played in the garden, a ton of nooks and crannies to explore.  The long dining table where we had meals of grilled fish and pork belly al fresco.  The white picket fence that opened up to a wide shore and an untamed sea.  It was like another life, in another time…and perhaps it was.

And that sea, that sea so different from other seashoresI had seen before (and we live on an archipelago so we have seen a lot).  Wild and careless, waves crashing, and in their wake the strong pull of current, sucking at my feet as I stood entranced before it.  It had a certain “edge of the world” feeling, so different from the mild, baby blue long shallows I was used to.  I could stand there and watch it for hours (or what seemed like hours), this seemingly untameable beast/beauty.  Something to be respected.  A surfer’s sea I suppose.  And me, not a surfer, but someone who easily falls under the spell of nature’s art.  Which this certainly was.

And the people – the friendly, warm locals who were so welcoming.  We came knowing nothing and no one but soon, even in our short time there, fell into their pleasant rhythm.  Yummy meals at the colorful hostel next door, and drinks and casual music there one night.  The sweet surfing instructors who taught Little C to surf (Yes!! Definitely a proud mommy moment!).  Impromptu beers after coming in from the water.  The children making new friends almost everywhere we went.  The adorable coffee shop that we kept going back to…admittedly not just for the friendly staff or their excellent “dirty white” (espresso dripped over cold milk on ice…life changing in this heat!), but the divine indoor s’mores (a heap of chocolate and marshmallows melted and browned in the oven, serve with grahams to dip and dig into the blissfully molten mess).  The kids loved it…sitting together on makeshift stools, sticky with sugar, leftover sunblock, and sweat, thinking of nothing but the next sweet mouthful.  And me watching them, for once not letting my mind skip two or ten paces ahead, but instead thinking of nothing but the next sun-kissed moment.

Garlic Lemon Butter Shrimp
  • 500 grams peeled and de-veined large shrimp
  • 1 teaspoon pimenton de La Vera
  • Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
  • 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon butter
  • the juice of one lemon, divided
– Season the shrimps with pimenton, salt, and pepper.  Set aside.

– Melt the 1/4 cup butter in a skillet over medium high heat.

– When the butter is sizzling add the garlic and sauté until fragrant but not brown.
– Add the shrimp and cook, a minute or so on each side, until just done.  Do not over cook the shrimp or they will become tough.

– When the shrimp is done add the 1 tablespoon butter and toss until all the shrimp is glossy and slick.  Remove from heat.

– Add half of the lemon juice, toss to mix thoroughly, and taste.  If you feel it needs more lemon start adding the other half, tasting as you go.  Season to taste with salt and pepper if you feel it needs it.  Serve immediately.

This isn’t something we had on our trip to La Union but it’s definitely something that feels so summery to me.  Plump shrimp cooked in butter and garlic, and spritzed with a bright note of lemon at the end.  Light and sunny and centered on seafood.  It’s also quick to make and enjoyed by most.  Perfect to prepare on a beach weekend…or on a weekend you wish you were at the beach.

This would also be great with some chili flakes tossed in with the garlic, but I was feeding kids so I kept things non-fiery.  I served this as an appetizer for a lunch at my mom’s and they were gone in 10 minutes.  C never even got to try them!  And the only reason I got a taste was because I snuck one shrimp while I was cooking.

Although I am back in the thrall of city life, its frenetic pace and hypnotic concrete towers reeling me in, as it always seems to do, the holiday’s faded glow still lingers on my shoulders.  I sit working in my tiny corner, like a million tiny corners in this city, giving off a collective glow of a busy hive – and I once again realize how much I love, unashamedly love, the city…its tawdry glamour, its too-fast pace, its hundred and one things to do, its unrepentant grittiness.  Even as my heart bursts at the sight of the sea and some part of me longs for wide-open spaces, the city still manages to lure my loyalties back with her honeyed whispers.  Maybe one day I will be free of her.  But until that day comes I am content to be her happy slave…with a few days off, once in a while, to play in the sea.

P.S. If you are planning a trip to San Juan, La Union don’t miss the coffee and s’mores at El Union and the grilled dorado, spicy crispy basil squid, and shrimp in tomato cream pasta at Flotsam and Jetsam Hostel.  The little and big C took surfing lessons with the surf instructors in from on the Kahuna beach resort if you are so inclined.  If not, drag a book to the shore and enjoy watching the surfers!  If you are interested in the little house by the sea that we rented just let me know and I’ll send you the details.

Caramel Croissant Pudding

April 5, 2015 by ChichaJo  
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Have you ever had one of those days when you just needed caramel, croissants, and rum in the morning?  Don’t we all just have days like that?  When only sugar, booze, and French boulangerie, will help?

Well, if you are better able to manage your feelings, going out for a run or finding peace in your yoga class instead of calories in your pantry, then absolutely more power to you.  I wish I were that virtuous and disciplined.  But, just like the lady from where this recipe originated, when I feel up against it, it is carbs I crave.  And I have no qualms indulging myself.

It’s been quite a hectic past two weeks.  Work has been a wringer, the nanny was on holidays (yes, I have a nanny…I need help to balance family, home, work, friends, and me…and I am fully not opposed to procuring this help in any way I can or can afford to!)

Another thing I do when I am stressed, which is actually directly related to this dish, is watch old Nigella Lawson videos on Youtube before I go to sleep.  Don’t judge!  I know we aren’t supposed to be taking our gadgets into bed with us, and I’ve promised myself time and time again only books at bed, but when the day has been a particularly tough one, nothing sets me right like listening to her gorgeous voice talk about food and life and indulgence and not having enough time to brush her hair.  She just makes life seem beautiful in her very perfect imperfectness.  Or maybe I’m the only fool that sees that.  But fool or no, after watching her putter around and put together a meal, I close my eyes with a contented sigh, ready to face the day to come.

This recipe comes from one such video.

Caramel Croissant Pudding

(adapted very slightly from Nigella Lawson)
  • 2-3 stale croissants (depending on the size of the croissant)
  • 100 grams sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 125 ml cream
  • 125 ml full fat milk
  • 1-2 tablespoons rum (depending on how boozy you want it to taste, 2 tablespoons will give you a good kick)
  • 2 eggs, beaten

– Tear the croissants into pieces and put it in a small gratin or baking dish of about 2 cups capacity.

– Put the sugar and water in a saucepan and swirl around to start dissolving.  Place this on a hob over medium high heat.  Caramelize the sugar by letting this bubble away, without stirring, until it turns a deep amber color.  This should take about 3-5 minutes.  Caramel can go from bronze to burnt in seconds so do be vigilant about watching it.

– Turn the heat low and add the cream, whisking as you do, being careful of the spluttering.  Keep whisking and add the milk and rum.  Take off the heat and add a little of the caramel to your eggs whisking it in.  Add this mixture back into your saucepan, continuing to whisk.

– Pour, what is now essentially a caramel custard, over your waiting croissants.  You can leave this to steep for 10 minutes if your croissants are especially stale.

– Place in a pre-heated 350F over for 20 minutes and then enjoy with abandonment!

The video of Nigella making this caramel croissant pudding is one of my favorites.  I’ve probably watched it a million times.  It’s perfect before bed because it is set at night…when she comes home from one totally sophisticated drinks part or other, looking as lovely as usual, dressed all in black, a bottle of Maker’s Mark in tow.  She tosses her heels and jewelry aside and sets about making her post-party supper…this pudding.  Everything about this video I love.  The way she looks beautiful and happy and confident sans skinny figure and designer ensemble.  The way she makes caramel in the late hours of the night.  The way she slugs the bourbon into the mix.  The way she takes the pudding with her to enjoy cozily in her bed. 

It comes as no surprise then that I had to give it a go.  I had two stale croissants rattling around my freezer so the timing was perfect.  The only thing I changed about this recipe was using rum instead of bourbon simply because rum was what I had around.  Also, pay attention to the amount of croissants you have – my croissants were a bit smaller that their heftier European counterparts so I had to add about half a croissant more than the two that was called for.

I had this for breakfast, instead of dinner, and I can certainly concur that it makes you feel spoiled and indulgent – which is something we all need and deserve to feel – all for the price of two stale croissants!  Not a bad deal at all, all things considered.

It’s back to work for me now, but thankfully the holidays gave me a bit of time to catch my breath and recoup.  We stayed at home, I cooked, we slept in, took naps, spent time with family and friends…the best things to do in my book.  I hope your holiday was equally wonderful!  And, of course, that some spoiling and indulging were on the agenda.

Lemon Butter Chicken

March 24, 2015 by ChichaJo  
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So many new places to eat are opening up these days.  Not just in my neighborhood (in which there are a lot of great new places to explore and turn into hangouts…yay!) but all over.  Our local dining scene has never been more vibrant.  It is truly a diners market where one has a dizzying array of choices.  There are those maverick independents whose delicious and creative offerings are the work of a brave soul armed with just his (or her!) passion and the desire to share it.  Then there is the multitude of seeds being sowed by big gutsy restaurant groups – whose fruit seems to be sprouting like wildflowers one on top of the other, both local concepts and exciting foreign franchises.  And every delicious drop in between.

It’s almost magic…that little trill of electricity that goes up and down our spine when we whisper that auspicious question: “Where do we eat?

Often though, despite the glittering siren song of dazzling new dishes put together by fancy chefs and daring cooks, what we crave for is a little closer to home.  Right at home actually, to be exact.  The homely looking, the unsophisticated, the familiar tastes and comforting flavors, those dishes that look frumpy and plain and unready at all for an Instagram feed.  Those dishes, homemade dishes, lovingly put together in our favorite pot, stirred through by our worn wooden spoon, scorched in parts and frayed in others, served directly in the cooking vessel, a tattered trivet slipped under it.  The nights when we can all gather around the table, saying a grace, or having the little one say it even if we don’t understand half of what she carefully mutters.  Slippers hanging on feet.  Little C, feet off the chair please!  My plate is chipped and I’m thinking, “When will we ever get another set?  We tuck in, ladle food out onto waiting plates.  Contented sighs. Simple joys. 

Lemon Butter Chicken

(Slightly adapted from Damn Delicious)
  • 8 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika (pimenton de La Vera)
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 cup basil leaves
– Season the chicken thighs with paprika, salt, and pepper to taste.  Set aside.

– Place a large oven-proof skillet over medium high heat.  Add the 2 tablespoons butter.  When the butter is melted and bubbling, add the chicken pieces in one layer, skin-side down.  Sear on both sides until golden brown, about 2-3 minutes per side.  Set aside.

– Drain excess fat from the pan then place the pan back on the heat with the remaining tablespoon of butter.  Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant (about 1-2 minutes).  Stir in cream, Parmesan, lemon juice, and thyme.

– Bring to a boil then reduce heat.  Cook, stirring, until sauce has thickened slightly, about 3-5 minutes.  Add the basil, stir until it is evenly distributed in the pan.  Add back the chicken, tucking the pieces in around the basil.
– Bake the chicken in a pre-heated 400F oven for about 25-30 minutes or until cooked through.  Serve immediately.

We cook some iteration of baked chicken regularly at our home.  Chicken thighs or leg quarters are a mainstay in our freezer for just that reason.  A tray of baked chicken is simple and frugal to prepare and can be dressed up or down with whatever you have right now in your pantry.  It also pretty much cooks itself – tucked away in the oven while you go about doing other important things.  Essential when you are a busy parent with two (oops, 3, the hubs counts too!) hungry mouths to feed.  Equally essential when you are single and need meals that don’t feed a battalion – baked chicken is so easy to scale down!  Here’s a single tip (from my own slightly swinging and single days): When buying a tray of chicken thighs ask the guy behind the counter to already divide it by two or three and repack it for you.  He will do it if you ask nicely.  It will only take a minute, does not change the price, and you will have small portions ready in the freezer for a solo meal (or a meal for two).

I chanced upon this recipe from Damn Delicious and I knew I needed to add it to my baked chicken rotation.  I was not mistaken.  This produces such a lovely, flavorful pan sauce…and if you live in a country that has rice in almost every meal you know how important a pan sauce can be.  I didn’t have any spinach as in the original recipe so I used basil instead and was rewarded with another layer of flavor in the sauce (not to mention the gorgeous fragrance that perfumes your home while this is baking).

I still go out to eat and I don’t think I will ever give that up…I enjoy eating too much and I love to sample what these talented people have generously put out for us.  And I don’t know if I will ever be able to manage lechon, chicharon, or sushi in my home kitchen…and we all know I can’t live without that.  But there will always be a big chunk of my heart reserved for home-cooking (which is why I have a recipe blog and not a restaurant blog).  Because no matter how far I ramble, when it comes to food, there is truly no place like home. 

Garlic Mushroom Quinoa

March 15, 2015 by ChichaJo  
Filed under Breakfast


Hi!  How have you all been doing?  Good I hope.  I’ve been under the weather this past week.  One of those nasty, unidentifiable bugs that make you feel generally lousy (runny nose, itchy throat, achy body) but not lousy enough to render you totally bedridden.  And if I’m not feeling lousy enough to be bedridden, then you know where I am…doing everything else but.  Slogging through work, going to meetings, cooking for my home (and for my blog…which incidentally is really the same sort of cooking), running errands, and then going to bed at night feeling spent and pitiful.  I wake up the next morning feeling just a measure better and think I can do it all over again.  Sigh.  Not the best of habits admittedly.  You feel lousy for a reason…your body is telling you that you need to slow down, catch a breath, and reboot for a bit. 

But do I every listen to my body?

Only when it tells me to go out and buy a pain au chocolat.

I know…I’m hopeless.

But I’ve come to accept my own special brand of hopeless hopefulness.  And it is liberating.  In my 40 years on Earth, that is the shining nugget of wisdom I can share…accept yourself, love yourself.  You are amazing.  And so is everyone else.  Let’s high five and hang out!

If only we all did that a little bit more maybe we would all be in better moods…and think more of the next pain au chocolate instead of the next political move or the next bomb to drop.

Or maybe I am just hopelessly naïve.  What can I say…hopeless hopefulness right?

In any case, if we need a something a little more virtuous to eat, because hopeful or no perhaps it isn’t such a good idea to subsist solely on French boulangerie, here is a little something that may fit the bill.

Garlic Mushroom Quinoa
  • Olive oil
  • 300 grams mushrooms (I used Swiss brown mushrooms)
  • 4-5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cups cooked quinoa
  • 2 sprigs of parsley, leaves picked and chopped
– Heat a couple of swirls of olive oil in a pan or skillet.  When the oil is hot add the garlic and sauté just until the fragrance hits your nose.  Do not let the garlic brown.

– Add the mushrooms to the pan, season with salt and pepper, and sauté, tossing in the garlicky oil, until they start shrinking and releasing their juices.  Sauté further until they reabsorb all their juices and are soft and cooked through.

– Add the butter to the pan and toss just until the butter has melted and the mushrooms have become slick and shiny.

– Add the quinoa and mix gently, cooking for a couple of minutes until the quinoa has absorbed the flavors of the mushrooms.  Taste and adjust seasoning.  Add the parsley, toss, and remove from the heat.

As I have said many times before, I do not eat anything solely for its nutritional benefits.  If I eat something, it is because I actually like it.  And I like quinoa, truly.  It’s got a pleasant bite and a nutty flavor, is a great carrier of other ingredients, and, as a bonus, may put less on you waist that its equivalent in white rice.  Add some woodsy mushrooms and a touch of garlic and it is the perfect accompaniment for any kind of roast meat.  Although it is great on its well, or maybe with a fried egg on top. 

Let’s try to ignore that I just had to go an add two tablespoons of butter.  It’s worth it though.  Trust me on that.

I had dinner with an old family friend last week, a psychologist, and he looked at me and said, “Your father was an old soul, your mother and brother are old souls, but you are a young soul.  I didn’t know whether I should have cheered or been ashamed.   Had I no wisdom?  God, I knew I should have been cultivating more sophistication in my free time instead of eating through my neighborhood bakery.  But he quickly reassured me, “You are wise, but have a certain naïveté.  So I guess it’s really true.  Hopeless hopefulness.  If it means always having something to laugh about, being able to find sliver linings, having the skill to brush myself off and start again, never experiencing the boredom of having “been there and done that”, always exploring, (and I suspect it keeps the wrinkles off as well)…then may I always stay the same.

Double Chocolate Pancakes

March 5, 2015 by ChichaJo  
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When it’s time to do the grocery I always (ideally) like to fly solo.  When the whole brood comes along, things no doubt get crazy with all sorts of stuff mysteriously appearing in the cart by checkout time.  And don’t think this is solely from the little ones.  C always sneaks in some contraband – Vienna sausage, Spam, and his beloved instant noodles.  As far as little C goes, the aisles are both a treasure trove and a minefield…sugary snacks lurking in every corner and, gasp, again, the instant noodles.  As for the littlest one, although he has yet to learn how to demand for treats, he does his own damage trying to run amok and tear everything from the shelves (I exaggerate…but not by much).

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not some sort of health food fundamentalist.  Far from it!  I am pretty relaxed when it comes to food (if you haven’t noticed by now), just as I am about life.  I like to generally eat mostly whole, “real” food, generally avoid junk food and artificial ingredients, and generallyendeavor to lean towards homemade versus processed.  I say generally very, well, generally.  Do I eat junk and processed food?  Yes.  Do my kids?  Yes.  Sometimes.  And I don’t stress about it.  I try for the majority of our food to be wholesome, so I don’t have to crack the whip when my child asks for a Yan-Yan as a treat while grocery shopping (raise your hand if you know what Yan-Yan is!).  And I certainly will not deny my husband his “emergency stash”.

Solo grocery trips are definitely more efficient, and more frugal, but also very much a luxury.  With our busy schedules often keeping us away from the little ones, we can’t resist the round pleading eyes when they clamor to come along.  So we pile ourselves into the car and off we go.

In one such grocery trip, when I very formally tell little C (like I always do) that she can choose one treat (just one!), she chances upon a box of chocolate pancake mix.  She holds it up and says, “Can I have chocolate pancakes?” I hesitate, as I always do when straddling the fence between virtuous-everything-all-natural-mom and cool-anything-goes-mom.  Then the brilliant idea. “Mama will make you chocolate pancakes!!  She thinks for a beat, and then…”Can I help?

Of course baby, of course.

Double Chocolate Pancakes

(adapted from Cooking Classy)
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk (I didn’t have buttermilk so I used yogurt thinned out with milk and it was fine)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • About 1 cup chocolate chips
  • Butter for the pan

– In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, sugars, cocoa, baking soda, and salt until thoroughly combined.

– In a separate mixing bowl whisk together the milk, buttermilk, eggs, oil, and vanilla.

– Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredient mixture.  Whisk together just to blend – do not overmix.  The batter will be lumpy and that’s fine.

– Heat a skillet over medium high heat and, when hot, add a pat of butter.  When the butter is melted and bubbling, add a ladleful of batter.  Generously sprinkle on some chocolate chips.  Allow to cook until bubbles form on the surface, about one minute, then flip and cook the other side.  Repeat with the rest of the batter.

The original recipe had a chocolate sauce and was served with bananas and strawberries, which sounds absolutely wonderful, but I was low on fruit and did not have the energy to make a chocolate sauce so I opted to add chocolate chips to the pancakes themselves.  Suffice to say my chocolate gremlin, little C, loved them!  She had them for breakfast, and every snack and dessert thereafter.  She was reluctant to share but I finally convinced her.  Of course, I filched some while she was in school, like the good mom that I am.  We had them with maple syrup but I imagine they would be fantastic with whipped cream, or the aforementioned chocolate sauce (or peanut butter!!!).

What I like to do to save time, and make my mornings less frenetic, is to mix all the dry ingredients at night (preferably when the little ones are asleep).  It’s quite therapeutic and lulling to measure out and mix ingredients, especially dry ingredients that offer no resistance.  This way, the next morning, it is simply a matter of getting the wet ingredients mixed in and the pancakes cooked.  Mixing the wet ingredients together is an easy enough task to enlist the help of your child – it’s a great way to get them helping out and interested in cooking.  You can also make the dry ingredient mix during the weekend and have a homemade “pancake mix” for emergency pancakes during the week (and we all know that there is always a time during the work-week when the powers of emergency pancakes will need to be called upon correct?).

So, in the tug-of-war between being the mom that does everything correct and the mom that does everything cool, I choose…not to choose.  I relax and go with my gut.  I try to make good choices.  And I try to make them happy.  And along the way there will be wild grocery adventures…and chocolate pancakes.

Guava Bars

February 22, 2015 by ChichaJo  
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So, I’ve been walking lately.  A brisk morning walk several times a week, as well as walking wherever I can vis a vis taking the car.  Although I have always espoused a life of decadence (i.e. rationalising my laziness), a pain au chocolat in one hand and a good book in the other, cozily ensconced in a mass of duvet covers, I can’t deny that time takes its toll on all of us unless we do something to counter it.  And so, a little movement is in order to get this old ticker in some semblance of satisfactory shape so I will be able to one day walk my now-little-ones down the aisle or take care of some grandchildren.

I’m being dramatic.

No, I’m not.  Listen here young and not-so-young parents…our health will one day be one of the best gifts we give our children.  They (and we) may not realize that now, when she cannot see past the My Little Pony shelves in the toy store, or the rubber ball he is determined to break apart with his teeth, but one day they will.

Anyway, enough contemplation for now.

My morning walks…I do love them.  Really.  And coming from someone who cannot abide by any physical activity whatsoever, that is quite an admission.  The inside of a gym literally makes me faint (as does the insides of sports stores fyi…the smell, it’s that weird smell of rubber).  Sports are even worse for me because they combine two of my least favorite things in life…physical activity and competition (ironic that both my husband and my best friend are avid sportspeople who thrive in competitive environments).  I knew I needed to get moving though, but the only times I actually don’t mind physical effort is when I’m shopping, exploring, dancing, or otherwise “just living”.  And so, I’ve decided to build my “fitness plan” on just that…”just living”.  Incorporating more activity into what I already do, or need to do: Turning my regular market trips into “marketcizing”, walking to pay my bills, using my feet instead of my car to pick up my daughter from pre-school.  So many things can turn into a walk, just as so many things can turn into an adventure.  Yes, doing this has injected more activity in my life and has (fingers crossed) made me a bit stronger (heart and lungs…I mean you!), but it’s also yielded some pleasant surprises: corners of my city I see with new eyes, my daughter’s love of our “little walks” that are now our own mini-adventures, and the amazing cobweb-clearing quality a good walk in the outdoors seems to possess.

And of course, there is that carbon footprint decreasing.

It must be said that I have nothing, absolutely nothing, against organized exercise.  My husband is wildly in love with biking and has also just started a passionate affair with cross-fit.  This is on top of his lifelong devotion to football.  And he is one of my favorite people in the world.  So more power to all that I say.  But I know that it is not for me.

And truly, I am well aware that this sort of thing is not going to land me washboard abs or the ability to wear a short skirt.  I am satisfied with the extra activity my heart (and lungs!) is getting…which will hopefully help me avoid keeling over on my next trip up some stairs.

It hopefully also gives me a little extra leeway for a few treats…like this one.

Guava Bars

(adapted from Simply Anne’s)
  • 215 grams all purpose flour
  • 140 grams rolled oats
  • 1/2 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 200 grams butter
  • 300 grams brown sugar
  • 1 cup guava jelly 
– In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, oats, baking powder, and salt.  Set aside.

– With an electric mixer on medium speed, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.  Reduce the speed to low and add the mixture of dry ingredients.  Continue mixing until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl but is still crumbly.

– Line a 9×9 inch square baking pan with parchment paper – I like to make sure the paper hangs a bit over the edge of the pan because this is what I use to lift the baked product out of the pan.  Press a little over half the dough into the pan, firmly and evenly. 

– In a clean mixing bowl whisk the guava jelly until light and smooth, about 3 minutes.  This makes the sticky jelly much easier to spread.

– Spread the whipped guava jelly over the dough base, and then using your fingers, break up the remaining dough over the jelly.  You don’t have to cover everything; it’s ok (and actually quite nice) if the jelly peeks out here and there.

– Bake this in a pre-heated 325F oven for about 25-30 minutes or until the top is golden brown.

– Let this cool completely in the pan, then use the parchment paper to sling it out onto a chopping board.  Cut into squares.

Now, I know that guava bars may not be classified as health food by any standards but mine, where I file it neatly between fruit and oatmeal.  If you practice the same such standards, please indulge!  This is both simple to make and yummy to snack on if you like guava jelly (which I do, irrevocably).  In my old school they make a tart with guava jelly…and I like to think this is reminiscent of that. 

This got a 3 out of 4 vote in my household: everyone liking it except for my choco-phile little girl.  She did get me thinking about doing this with chocolate chips, nuts, and marshmallows instead of the jam so she may just get her wish one day.  I am certainly going to try this with other jams as well; off the bat I am thinking a mangosteen or a mango version would be delicious.

If you’d like to see my non-workout workout attempts, whether to inspire you (because if I can do it…), or to make you feel more virtuous (because you are already doing so much more I am sure!), or even just so we can virtually laugh together, you can follow me on Instagram and look for my hashtags #the80breakfastsfitnessplan and #idontthinkyourereadyforthisjellydonut   You can also look for #marketcizing for specific market-centered “working-out”

And…if you are like me, and have always been avoiding exercise, why not strap on those neglected sneakers and just…go.  Explore, wander, pick up a bag of pan de sal from the bakery two streets down, walk to the mall and buy yourself some killer shoes…discover, but on foot! (and if you are so inclined, go ahead and tag your photos with any of the hashtags above so we can all enjoy our glorious attempts at being more active together 😉)

Sesame Soba Noodles

February 15, 2015 by ChichaJo  
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I was at our neighborhood coffee shop yesterday morning.  I woke up a just a tiny bit earlier so I could sneak a solo coffee before I went to market.  Which I suppose is a funny thing to do on Valentines, but I love it when I have time to grab a cup of coffee before heading to the market on Saturdays, so there you go.  Just me, my flat white, doing my little (and I do mean little) market list, and watching my neighbors.  A little bit of calm before the weekend bursts upon us.

I sat there, like I have done many Saturdays before, sipping my coffee, looking around.  I let everything wash over me.  The deep comforting smell of the coffee, the way the cup’s fat lip touched mine, the multitude of conversations happening all around me, the soft green of the succulents they like to put on every table.  And I felt a kinship with everyone there, although they were all strangers.  Does that sound odd?  You know those times when you think the human race is going to hell in a handbasket?  Well, this was the complete opposite of that feeling.  I felt like, at that moment, I was connected to everyone.  And they to me.  That we were all trying to be humans together.  The breathless and hopeful and tenuous and fleeting beauty of it.

At that moment, I loved everyone in that coffee shop.  The old man in the maroon felt fedora, smoking a cigar and holding his cane and looking like he had a million mysteries running through him.  The group of three in the table in front of me, two foreigners and one local, talking about UNESCO heritage sites and other such important matters.  The young family with their baby in a stroller, an iPad propped up so he (or she) could watch Hi5 while they had their breakfast, making me feel (gratefully) less guilty about my own loose protocols on TV and gadgets.  The couple on my right, older, all briskness and business, their formality hiding a fondness and familiarity, that I felt anyway, even through the way he said “let’s have the French toast stuffed with dark chocolate” as if he was conveying the bottom line of a financial statement.  The couple on my left, younger, who held hands across the table and would not let go, through earnest conversation topics, shifting of positions, and ordering of coffee their hands linked, stretched and knotted but wouldn’t break – that day they did not seem trite or corny, but reassuringly endearing, so much so that when their order came and their hands parted I almost felt the pain of it.  Even the waitress across the room, who seemed to understand what I needed with just a softly mouthed “water” from a distance, her lips echoing “water” before coming over with a tall bottle to refill my waiting glass.

Glorious humanity. I felt you. I felt the goodness. 

This has nothing to do with noodles, except that noodles too are good, and sometimes glorious.

Sesame Soba Noodles

(adapted from Savory Simple)
  • 70 grams noodles (I used somen but you can use soba if you have it)
  • 3 tablespoons peanut butter
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1/2 – 1 teaspoon chili oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon sesame seeds
  • 3 tablespoons pasta water
– Prepare noodles as per package instructions.  Rinse in cold water and set aside.

– In a small bowl whisk together thoroughly the peanut butter, sesame oil, soy sauce, chili oil, honey, 1 tablespoon sesame seeds, and the pasta water.  Taste and adjust – if you want it to be saltier add a little soy sauce, if you want it to be sweeter add a little honey, if you want more heat add more chili oil.  You are looking for a balanced flavor.

– Toss the noodles and sauce together.  Garnish with the remaining sesame seeds before serving.

I had been sitting on this recipe for a while now.  It’s been hanging around my pinterest boardfor a bit.  I have also had these lovely somen noodles that I procured on a trip to Hong Kong, and had been meaning to use.  So it made sense to pair one with the other.  I decided to use the egg somen (the others in the photo are perilla and yuzu…I can’t wait!) because I felt this creamy nutty sauce would go well with it, which it did.  I’m thinking of trying this with the original soba called for though as the somen is quite thin and delicate and this sauce could do with a more substantial noodle.  Although somen is still absolutely fine if that’s all you’ve got.

This will make two servings, which is exactly right for us as it was a hit with half of the family, myself and the little boy, while Cand the little girl weren’t quite as sold.  Knowing my propensity for creamy dishes, and C’s typical indifference to them, I am not surprised.  It is interesting though to see our little ones develop their own personal tastes, and to whom one will be similar.  If you like Asian-style peanut sauce, and creamy sauces in general, you will like this as well I suspect.  Add as little or as much chili as you’d like.  I added about half a teaspoon and this was fine with my almost-two-year-old.   

I walk home from the coffee shop and market yesterday reinvigorated and primed to make the most of the weekend.  Sometimes all you need is a quick reboot, nothing fancy or involved, just a little exhale over some coffee, short unplugged moments taking it all in, at your favorite neighborhood haunt. 

Hope you all had a wonderful Valentines weekend, spent loving everyone who you love most, including yourself!

Quick Blueberry and Chia Seed Jam

February 4, 2015 by ChichaJo  
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Did I ever tell you that my father was a photographer?  If not by profession then definitely by heart.  Long before the arrival of digital cameras, he lugged his (what seemed to me then) huge camera everywhere.  I had to pose for so many photos.  “Look up…look left…look down…chin up…”  I obeyed like the dutiful daughter that I was (still am actually).  And then there were the photos that weren’t posed…which where much worse.  Did I ever tell you that I am an ugly sleeper?  Well, we have the photos that prove it.  As we do the “just about to take a bite of food” photos and the “in the middle of disagreeing with someone” photos.

I remember thousands (or what seemed to me then like thousands) of flower photos, many of which looked exactly the same to me.  I remember the old school slideshow viewer that he was so excited to get.  The meeting of the slideshow viewer and the (thousands!) flower photos was a purgatorial day for my brother and me.  Click-shuck, click-shuck…flower # 784.  My father pointing out minuscule details for my brother and my untrained eyes.

I remember our first European holiday as a family, with my brother winning the dubious honor of being my dad’s photographer’s assistant.  He carried heavy bags and tripod without too much complaining.  Difficult to complain when you are in Europe.  Even with my dad lying on his back beneath the Eiffel Tower so he could get a photo from under her “skirt”.  Our whole trip was soundtracked with his shutter release button. 

I remember when I whined to him how my little digicam couldn’t produce the same kinds of photos on other food blogs…and pretty soon a D-SLR appeared on my doorstep.  And this blog got a facelift in the photo department.

That very same DSLR suddenly decided to go on strike last week.  Something or other jammed and a part now needs to be replaced.  I don’t really understand what this entails except for the part where the replacement could take a couple of months to arrive.  I looked at the guy at the Nikon service center, lips pursed, trying not to let the overly dramatic words out of my mouth – “But my blog!!!

Well…did I ever tell you that my father was a photographer?  His cameras and other photography paraphernalia have been sitting at my brother’s flat, waiting for a good moment for us to go over them.  Had I been putting it off?  I’ll never know.  But this was as good a time as any, I thought, I do need a camera.  So we gathered over five and some bags filled with cameras (some still film!), and lenses, flashes, and other odds and ends of which I don’t even know the use.  Then there are the tripods and lighting equipment.  At the end of it all there were around a dozen lenses standing like soldiers on my mother’s bar, and I had a new/old camera on my lap.  But not just any camera.  My dad’s camera.  As I put my fingers on the worn rubber pads, I think to myself, I hope I can do this justice…not just in skill, but also in passion.  Because my father was passionate about the things he believed in, about the things he loved.

He also made jam.  Did I ever mention that?

Quick Blueberry and Chia Seed Jam
  • 150 grams blueberries
  • 100-120 grams sugar
  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds
  • 4 tablespoons water
– Place all the ingredients in a small pot.  Place over low heat and let simmer, stirring now and again, until it thickens.  This won’t take long, about 20-25 minutes.  You want it to be thick but still pourable.  It will gel further as it sits.

– Place in a clean jar and, when cool, store in the fridge.
This is one of the easiest jam recipes ever.  You just dump everything in a small pot and let it bubble away until it turns into jam.  For me, this was just a little over the time it took me to make my morning coffee and yogurt bowl, and wrestle with my littlest one a bit.  It makes one small jar, which you then store in the fridge.  Easy to make, easy to enjoy.  This jam is perfect in a cream cheese sandwich or dolloped atop some yogurt, as pictured here.

The chia seeds not only add its super health powers, but also help the jam jellify.   I’ve used our local blueberries here (from Benguet), which are not as sweet as the blueberries of the West, so if you are using regular blueberries you may want to adjust the sugar.

My dad never made blueberry jam.  His specialty was mango, one of my favorite jams of all time.  He could wax poetic about his mango jam, and the making of it.  I think he would like this too though.  He loved all sweet things.

So here I am, with my father’s old toys.  I still need to go through the lenses, figure out where each one’s talents lie…and which lie in food.  I still have to fix up his camera that I will be trying my hand at.  I still have to go through the tripods.  And goodness knows if I’ll have the wherewithal to manage the lighting equipment.  Meanwhile my regular camera is in the hands of the Nikon service center.  So it may take a little longer to get a new post up.  Rest assured I intend that to be sooner rather than later.  As the trepidation and sentimental melancholy fade, it is replaced by an excitement in the knowledge that I’ll have something of my father’s with me, working with me on this thing that I am passionate about, that I love, which is this little space in cyberspace.

See you all soon!

Peking Pork Chops

January 22, 2015 by ChichaJo  
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If you are thinking that much of what we eat at home is Asian food, or at the very least Asian-influenced food, then you would be absolutely right.  My pantry is packed with everything from soy sauce (regular and dark) to sesame oil (Chinese and Korean), oyster sauce and hoisin, Shaoxing wine, rice wine, rice wine vinegar, mirin, fish sauce, coconut milk, various chili pastes (with and without soy) hailing for different Asian countries, plum sauce, sweet chili sauce, and probably a few other items that I can’t recall at the moment.

There are two very good reasons for this.  One, the most obvious, that I live in Asia, and am Asian.  And two, that I absolutely and unequivocally love Asian food.  All Asian food.  Yes, all.  And although I do love cuisines from other continents as well, none have a hold on my heart the way Asian food does.  I’ve said this one too many times that I am sure there is someone (or two or more) out there who desperately wants to shut me up (or whack my head at least).  But there it is.  I can’t deny it nor stop waxing obsessive about it.  Asian food is just this side of criminally awesome.  Nothing can match it when it comes to its crazy range of flavors.

The great part…is I think I may be raising two more Asian food lovers as well.  My two gremlins are just as happy with their sabaw (Filipino for soup), adobo, and fish steamed with soy and sesame, as they are with fried chicken and spaghetti.  Little C in particular has recently discovered the joys of Korean food.  And don’t get me started on the excitement when she sees a whole steamed fish (almost at par with mine and C’s…almost).

So you will forgive me for having yet another Asian recipe to share I hope?

Peking Pork Chops

(amended slightly from Rasa Malaysia)
  • 250-300 grams pork steak or pork tenderloin, cut into 1/2-inch slices
  • Oil for frying
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon Shaoxing wine
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon ketchup
  • 1 teaspoon plum sauce
  • 1/2 – 1 teaspoon chili paste
  • 1/4 teaspoon hoisin
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon black vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • A pinch of Chinese Five Spice powder
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds, for garnish
– Pound the pork with a meat mallet to flatten and tenderize.  I like to do this in between two sheets of baking parchment for easy clean-up.  Set aside.
– In a bowl, whisk together the egg, cornstarch, Shaoxing wine, and salt.  Add the pork slices to the mixture and turn everything to make sure all surfaces of the pork are well covered in the marinade.  Set aside and let marinate for 30 minutes.

– In a separate bowl, mix together the sauce ingredients: ketchup, plum sauce, chili paste, hoisin, Worcestershire sauce, black vinegar, sugar, Chinese five spice, and water.  Taste and adjust seasoning as desired.

– Heat a skillet or wok over high heat.  Add enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan.  When the oil is hot, add the pork slices in one layer.  If they can’t all fit then do this in batches.  Fry the pork on one side until golden brown, turn and repeat on the other side.  This should take about 5 minutes.  Don’t overcook the pork or it will be tough.  Set the pork aside and drain on paper towels.

– In the same skillet or wok, wiped down, bring the sauce to a boil and let this bubble for a bit, just a few seconds, and then add the fried pork.  Stir until the meat is well coated with the sauce.  Remove from the heat and serve sprinkled with the toasted sesame seeds. 

This recipe was adapted from Bee of Rasa Malaysia.  I love her recipes and her magical way of making all Asian dishes seem easy and within reach, even in my flat’s little kitchen.  I have her cookbook as well and last year it was one of my most used ones.  Hmmm…do I sense a giveaway here?

Anyway, moving right along, this dish was a success with my Asian-food-loving family…even with the littlest one.  I used half a teaspoon of the chili paste (a Thai brand in soya oil that was sweet as well) and that was fine with him.  If you have no small mouths to feed though go ahead and add more.  Serve this with lots of hot rice and some simple steamed greens and you will have happy campers.  I am imagining this would also be great tucked in a soft bun with some pickled chili and kewpie mayo…but that’s just me.

Maybe next post I will have something different for us.  Maybe something from different lands?  Or maybe something sweet?  Or maybe we will see another Asian dish?  After all, this blog is about home cooking, and there are no rules when it comes to that…which is one of the things I love about it.

So, despite the lure of berries and figs and fresh truffles, of chanterelles and morels and the tempting produce of distant shores…I am totally and blissfully content right where I am.  And I hope you are too.

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